Furry, creepy and definitely unwelcome

As pests come in out of the cold, tips for homeowners to eliminate an infestation

There you are, calmly having a cup of coffee and some cereal in the morning, when it happens. In a flash, a tiny little creature scampers from underneath the refrigerator and across the kitchen floor.

A mouse. How can such a little thing cause so much fear and panic?

If you haven’t gotten on top of your chair and started screaming, points for you. Dealing with mice and other pests takes quick action and, as much as you can manage it, a calm sense of purpose.

Take another scenario: Let’s say you get home from work and decide to have a little snack. You grab the bag of chips from the cupboard and put your hand in there to grab a handful. Your hand comes out with the chips, but also with an army of ants all over your arm.

Getting pests inside your home can be traumatizing and disturbing, but like in any battle, you have to act smarter than the critters. That means a multi-pronged approach.

First, you look for their entry point. Then, you figure out a way to get rid of the ones that you have before they reproduce. If all else fails, you may have to call in a professional.

Prevention is key

“Close anything that seems like a potential entry,” suggested Rick Standish, who runs Professional Pest Control, in Bryn Mawr. “I don’t have a million-dollar machine; it just takes careful inspection.”

Finding the entry point for mice and other rodents sometimes means looking for tunnels underneath the house. But you have to look up too, because the hole might be on a higher-up brick.

“They can climb,” Standish said.

Besides using your eyes as you search, you should also be probing and feeling for the entrances where creatures are getting inside.

Dennis Siebert of Arrow Pest Control in Uptown suggested using a flashlight to find the hard-to-see holes where animals could be getting in.

“You shouldn’t be afraid to get onto your hands and knees,” Siebert said.

To seal things up, Standish suggested using whatever material is already there. Cement or caulk work well, or you might use screen or mesh.

“Just make sure it’s secure,” he said. “In my experience, people get messy foam, and it’s really messy, and the things they really needed to do, they miss.”

Some bugs can come into your home through a bag of flour. April Fleck, who lives in Bryn Mawr, found this out when she discovered weevils, which are small black bugs that eat grain, in her home.

“You can buy flour that is fine, but if it has dormant eggs, they can hatch,” Fleck said. “Before you know it, they grow from thing to the next thing, and then it’s all over your pantry.”

Fleck had to peek through everything that wasn’t sealed.

“I had to systematically go through everything in my pantry,” she said. “I pulled out my hair!” Since the weevil incident a year and a half ago, Fleck now takes extra precaution with her dry goods. She stores her flower in the freezer now, and makes sure everything else is in her cupboards is stored in sealed containers.

Enlist allies

If mice are the problem, it’s no secret that having a cat is a great preventative solution. “Ultimately, the only thing that works for mice is having cats,” said Montana Pecore, who lives with her family in Whittier. “We got our first cat after the mice in our old house were so bad that they were living in the drawers in the kitchen and running across our beds at night.”

Pecore finally got a cat when she woke up to the sound of her parakeets screeching and found three mice in their cage eating their food.

“The next day we got a cat, and within a week he had killed at least 15 mice,” she said.

Cats aren’t your only predator friends. Another predator that could be your potential ally is the spider, which eats mosquitos and other pesky bugs. You also might want to keep around centipedes as much as you can stand them

“House centipedes actually eat more damaging pests and should be tolerated as much as possible,” said Bao Phi, a Minneapolis poet whose poem about keeping a centipede alive is in his most recent book, “Thousand Star Hotel.”

Set traps 

To deal with mice or other rodents that get into the house, step two after sealing off entry points is setting traps.

The good thing about doing traps yourself, instead of using an exterminator, is that you’re there to monitor them and can empty the traps as soon as you catch a mouse, said Standish.

“If a person lives there, they can check eight times a day,” he said. “Hiring someone adds to the cost.”

Siebert generally prefers snap traps, which involve luring the mouse or other animal with bait, such as chocolate, dog food or peanut butter. Sticky traps can be a little more dramatic, as the animal might not die right away, but Siebert says they’re good for catching young mice, which are sometimes hard to catch with the snap traps.

Call in the pros

Standish said the time to call a professional is when your do-it-yourself efforts don’t work. The trick is finding the right exterminator.

“Not all pest control companies are created the same,” he said.

Standish recommended finding an exterminator that offers a guarantee — and the right guarantee.

“Does their guarantee hinge on, ‘If you call us back, will we just put in more poison?’ That, to me, doesn’t do anything,” he said.

“Look for long-term contracts,” echoed Siebert, who said a company’s emphasis should be on fixing the holes.

Price can depend on a number of factors, including how big the infestation is and what kind of house or building needs the service.

According to Standish, if you’re dealing with mice, you’re looking at probably $450 minimum, but it could run up to several thousand dollars. An insect problem is sometimes cheaper — it can be solved for $150, or so, but it depends on the situation.