The Pale King, David Foster Wallace’s posthumously published book about IRS auditors, contains the simultaneously pithy and profound line: “Insects all business all the time.” Knowing Wallace, he doubtlessly intended a deeply imaginative and metaphorical meaning for these words, but they also do a good job just generally describing how the world of bugs works. Insects don’t really take coffee breaks, go on vacation, or enjoy an early retirement. Their every action is somehow related to their ongoing survival and propagation — and that is just as true with winter bugs and winter pests as it is with irritants encountered any other time of the year.
In this guide, we’ll discuss why you encounter winter bugs, what winter bugs are around your property in typical condition, and how you can best manage them.
Do Bugs and Pests Come Inside During the Winter?
When we think of pest problems, we tend to imagine summer, those warm months where bugs proliferate, and we can’t go more than a few minutes without slapping away some buzzing or biting creature. However, plenty of people find winter bugs in houses, and to understand why, it helps to study some common insect patterns.
As the mercury starts to fall, insects seek different ways to survive. Some migrate to warmer climates. (Think of the famous monarch butterfly, which migrates as far as 3,000 miles.) Some accept their own demise and guarantee the survival of their species by laying eggs or overwintering as larvae, pupae, or nymphs. But some go into full hibernation as grown, adult insects. In fact, the Smithsonian states, “To survive the cold of winter months, many insects replace their body water with a chemical called glycerol, which acts as an ‘antifreeze’ against the temperatures.” It’s these sorts of creatures that become the indoor winter bugs you’ll find in a home.
How do winter flying bugs and winter bugs that bite end up in your abode? Well, some of them were in your house to begin with and you only happened to encounter them during the cold months. (These would include winter bed bugs and spiders.) Others may have sought shelter in leaf piles around your property, including leaves in your gutters, and then gained access to your house through cracks in the foundation, siding, and/or roof. And sometimes the culprit can be your seemingly innocent woodpile. When you bring in a log or two, the pests that have buried themselves in the middle of it seeking warmth end up inside.
Most common winter bugs
While bugs don’t disappear during the winter, you shouldn’t expect every insect to continue to bother you once it gets cold. In this section, we will describe a number of common winter bugs and what sorts of behavior you can expect from them.
Termites (one of a homeowner’s most dreaded pests) don’t hibernate during winter, and their reproductive cycles don’t synchronize with the seasons. That makes it sound as though freezing weather should wipe them out, right? Not so fast. As soon as temperatures drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, termites start to seek warmth. They may burrow deeper into the ground — or they may make their way into your property. Cold can discourage further colony development if one is in a nascent stage. However, as long as established colonies have a link with moist soil, they experience no corresponding decrease in activity. If that colony is already extant in in your house, you could have a real issue on your hands.
Cold is so effective at killing bedbugs that pest control companies use it to eliminate them, Smithereen included! (Read more about our Cryonite® treatments.) Frosty weather also makes it less likely that they will hitchhike into your home on a piece of luggage or a delivery. However, cold temperatures will cause bed bugs to seek warmth, and an easy-to-access source is your home. If they’re living near your home, they could very well end up inside it.
Ants are among those insects that use glycerol to survive in winter. When the temperature drops below 75 degrees Fahrenheit, most ants will burrow deep into their nests until the weather gets warmer. Buildings are nicer than nests, though, and if they can find a way into your property through cracks in the walls or by being brought in on packages or plants, they will thrive.
“Winter beetles” isn’t an oxymoron. To start with, the term “beetle” refers to some 300,000 different types of bug, which is quite a diverse assortment. Still, most of them behave like many other insects: When it gets chilly, they look for warmth. It’s annoying to have them appear in your property, but they rarely cause significant damage.
Stink bugs may have earned their name for the noxious aroma they exude when squashed, but they’re really just a particular kind of beetle. The same behavior that motivates their wider family also motivates them, with one exception. They can’t thrive indoors, so they may swarm around doorways and windows. However, you may want to think twice before squashing winter stink bugs, because they really do earn their name.
A more unique species, box elders belong to the Hemiptera classification, a grouping that includes aphids and cicadas. Box elders, though, behave like many other insects: The striking, black-with-orange insects prefer dark, isolated places. As the weather warms, they may attempt to exist your home. They also have a distinct (and unpleasant) odor.
Ah, roaches! Their longevity has become the punchline to endless jokes, and their hardiness has caused people to wonder if they could survive even a global nuclear bombardment. Unfortunately, the hardiness of the common cockroach means that it’s one of the wintertime bugs you’re most likely to encounter, especially if it has access to food and water inside your property.
Perennial pests, spiders may seem to turn up around your home or business more often during cold months. That’s because they’re seeking warmth and shelter like so many other kinds of bugs. Clutter can help facilitate their flourishing.
Not every kind of tick remains active during winter, but deer ticks are an exception. Also known as the black-legged tick, it appears coast to coast. Exercise vigilance if you have pets, because these ticks can latch on to your furry friends when you walk them outside.
The proper name for snow fleas is springtails, and these feisty little jumpers like to hop around on top of the snow even during modest thaws — hence their nickname. They don’t live long inside, but they can make their way into structures, which often consternates those who find them there.
Midges behave much in the same way as springtails. Aquatic and ephemeral, they flourish near water and quickly become active as the temperature rises. While they may enter your house or business, they won’t bite or sting.
This ferocious-looking creature may seem to be a cross between a dragonfly and a scorpion. Fear not, though: It’s utterly harmless and rarely enters properties, preferring to remain outside. Its active period is October through March.
Stoneflies share a lot of commonalities with midges. However, they look a lot more like termites, which can prompt some panicked calls to a local pest control service. However, stoneflies have slightly different body and wing shapes than termites. Additionally, they virtually never appear in large swarms and are harmless.
You might be surprised to learn that finding ladybugs in winter in your property isn’t unheard of. And while it’s surprising, these garden-friendly, warmth-seeking little bugs won’t do much damage. They can secrete a yellow, staining liquid, but otherwise they won’t do any damage.
How to get rid of winter bug infestations
A true winter bug infestation isn’t something that most homeowners or business managers can tackle on their own. While a handful of ants here and a cockroach or two there don’t signal a serious problem, scads of invasive pests require professional pest control, preferably using an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach. An internationally recognized method, IPM combines a knowledge of pest life cycles and preventative measures with a minimalist approach to pesticide use. It’s an internationally recognized method that’s easy on the environment, healthy for people, and tough on pests. It’s also the approach that Smithereen employs.
How do I keep bugs out of my house this winter?
Speaking of prevention, a healthy dose of preventative preparation is the best way for you to keep insects and other pests out of your property this winter. A number of practical steps that you can take include:
- Clean up debris in and around your property to remove potential pest habitats
- Seal your doors by installing thresholds and weather stripping
- Seal cracks in your property’s walls and foundation
- Make sure that your windows have screens
- Caulk around windows
- Ensure that mulch, woodpiles, shrubbery, leaf piles, and tree limbs are kept away from structures
- Fix any leaky pipes
- Ensure that your fireplace is properly capped and screened
- Store all food in airtight containers
- Promptly dispose of all trash
Still have questions about what winter pest control should look like? We’ve compiled some of the most common queries below, as well as our answers.