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Battling Creepy Crawlies in the Home

As a baby boomer, Denise and millions of others are becoming senior citizens. She explores what it means to be over 60 today.

For an ad I created for Orkin

For an ad I created for Orkin

Desert Stink Beetles

In the 1980s, my new husband and our 4 children moved out into the country. It was lovely to be away from the busy city and out where the kids could run and yell to their heart's content. We were actually only 20 miles from the city we had been living in, but the environment was very different. For one, there were stink beetles.

I had never encountered these stink beetles before and the lady who owned the house warned us that every Spring they would swarm. These are not to be confused with stink bugs that have a shield-shaped body and don’t fly that I know of. Those are called brown marmorated stink bugs and these are sometimes called skunk beetles, for good reason. When I first saw a stink beetle, it was dark brown with a hard beetle-like shell, and it didn’t stink at all. The Desert Stink Beetles are larger and black but these were smaller than half an inch long and were dark brown. I thought that the lady had been kidding me. It seemed so small and harmless. But when these critters swarmed, they could get in your hair and up your pant legs and in other embarrassing places. That’s when I made the mistake of swatting at them. Oh, mama. When threatened these bugs let off a noxious odor that makes gym socks smell like roses. Plus, they weren’t too smart. Flying into your hair was just the start. They would drop into flowerpots and couldn’t figure out how to get out. Eventually, we had stink beetle carcasses everywhere. I hated finding them in the washing machine, in our clean clothes. That odor they spray can stay on you for up to a couple of weeks. It does terrible things to clean clothes.

When it comes down to it, the reason that science fiction endures is that it is, at its core, an optimistic genre. What it says at the end of the day is that there is a tomorrow, we do go on, we don't extinguish ourselves and leave the planet to the cockroaches.

— J. Michael Straczynski

A stink beetle

A stink beetle

Oh That Smell

Every year I warned the kids, “don’t swat the stink beetles” but it was easier said than done. It was safer to stay inside at dusk when they swarmed. But even that didn’t prevent them from getting into the house.

My stroke of genius came when we decided we had the room and ambition to raise a few chickens. These bug-eating birds not only gave the kids an education on the cycle of life but also eliminated most of the stink beetle problem. We let them scratch for a living instead of cooping them up and overfeeding them grain and the feathered girls did the rest. Yes. Stink beetle problem solved.

Pantry moth larvae eating almonds

Pantry moth larvae eating almonds

Common Grain Moth

A few years back we had the worst infestation of the common grain moth. The little critters must have gotten into the pantry by means of contaminated flour or pasta. But whatever the vehicle, they were driving me crazy. You could see little silk-like strands at the outside corners of boxes from the larvae feeding. Sometimes there would be tell-tale clumps in a bag of flour from the larva silk threads. I would dispose of any suspicious packages only to find more infestations a month later. These little guys are so small they can be easily overlooked until nighttime when they like to fly around the room, attracted to lights. I can’t say how many times I cleaned the cabinets and tossed suspicious packages, thinking I had got it all, only to find the kamikaze aviators buzz the living room again a month later.

I don’t like to use pesticides around food. Well, I don’t like to use chemicals at all if I can help it. These persistent pests were beginning to waver my resolve. I dusted the cabinets with boric acid powder, bought some plastic containers for all the baking supplies, and tossed more food than I like to think about, all to no avail.

A grain moth.  They are very small

A grain moth. They are very small

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Moths are okay. Actually, moths don't bother me near as much as, say, spiders do.

— Jeffrey Dean Morgan

The Last Straw

The final stroke came when I picked up one of my expensive Kolinsky Sable Watercolor Brushes only to have the hairs shower to the paper while I held a bald brush. The little critters had eaten my watercolor brush hairs. That’s it! This means war.

Finally, I gave up on store packaging and purchased glass canning jars. Everything that may remotely be interesting to these pantry pests was tightly sealed in glass. Again, I cleaned everything and put even my seasonings in small glass jelly jars. I am happy to announce that this did the trick. They could not get into the glass and so they were finally conquered. I keep everything, even dried beans, and dried fruit, in glass canning jars now. I feel much better about the safety of our health this way.

Fire Ants

Around here in the big Central Valley of California, we have fire ants. They are smaller than their black cousins, but they are true to their name. So small they can be all over you before you feel them and in a coordinated attack, all bite at the same time, leaving a venom that burns like fire for hours. Oh, yes, these ants are to be avoided.

Usually, you can steer a wide birth but when they get into the house looking for nourishment, there is nothing to do but to fight them.

I remember my first encounter with them, I was only about 6 years old. In a frilly dress and petticoat, I sat down on a rock in a rock garden and sitting there, minding my own business, I didn’t realize I had disturbed a fire ant nest until I was covered with them and they all bit at the same time. It was a horrific experience for a little girl. The welts they left lasted quite a while and I never wanted to come back to visit that aunt’s home again.

Fire Ants

Fire Ants

Watch Where You Stand

Since then, I am very cautious where I sit. This last summer, I stumbled upon a marching line of them across my living room to the kitchen. I found them only because one bit me. Knowing what it was, I went looking for them and finally found them. Nearly camouflaged on my brown carpet, I needed a flashlight and magnifying glass to see them. Just writing about this makes my skin crawl again. I first found where they were coming in. It must be a crack in the foundation because they seemingly came up from nowhere in the inside corner of the house near the laundry room. I sprinkled boric acid powder along the line of them all the way to the kitchen and waited about half an hour.

You see the boric acid powder does no harm until it is mixed with water or ingested. The ants went home to the nest and were cleaned by their fellow workers. What they brought home was fed to the queen who then died. After I was sure they had carried enough home to their own pantry, I sprayed the rest of the caravan line with an ant spray and vacuumed up the dead ones. They never came back. This works for cockroaches also.

Me and my baby sister.

Me and my baby sister.

Final Thoughts

Have you been invaded by creepy crawlies that caused you to do battle with them? Have you any home remedies you would like to share? I’d love the read your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.

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