Top 10 Common Australian Household Pests
Australian Household Pests
As will be suggested Australian household pests throughout this article, whatever can be done to prevent insects and rodents from coming into and establishing themselves on your property or in your home is always preferable to having to deal with the problem later. Basic, but diligent, sanitary habits, routine house repairs, and common sense go a long way to keeping multi-legged creatures out and two or four-legged creatures inside in comfort.
Highly social and well-organized, it is estimated that ants possibly make up 15% to 25% of all total land-based animals. Only Antarctica and a few non-livable islands have no native or invasive ants.
Native Ants vs. Invasive Ants
One native ant species is the jumper ant which is poisonous and found in Tasmania and southeast Australia. More common in rural, wooded areas, jumper ants are large with the queen measuring up to over ½ inch. Most human bites cause a mild reaction, but if an allergy is present, the sting can be dangerous. They eat primarily small insects and are most active during the day.
One invasive ant species and there are many, that have caused ecological damage is known locally as the yellow crazy ant. Brought accidentally to Christmas Island and northern Australia, it has established itself by bullying local ants and through recruiting young worker ants of other species. Their diet is quite adaptable which allowed it to survive in non-native habitats.
How Diverse are They?
Ants are a challenging species because there are so many diverse subspecies. Mainland Australia and its territories are home to 1,275 subspecies of ants. This accounts for roughly two-thirds of the world’s different sub-species of ants with Queensland having the honor of hosting the largest number of subspecies in the world. Since it is probably impossible to locate and name every ant species or subspecies, it is possible that the number could be over 6,500. So, a lot of ants!
How Do Ants Live?
Claiming permanent nests in places as different as soil and under pavement, ants are clearly industrious little insects who will go vast distances to bring food back to their community. Also, if something can be considered food, there is an ant that will search it out and bring it home.
What Can I Do to Prevent an Ant Problem?
Immediate things to consider helping resolve your ant issue are basic household maintenance, such as:
- Trim trees and bushes that may be in contact with your house or building
- Weatherproof your house by sealing all cracks and openings
- Clean up any beverage or food waste immediately
How Do I Eliminate an Ant Problem?
Virtually impossible to eliminate, modern methods can help control problem infestations, at least temporarily. Today a combination method of chemical, physical and bio-solutions helps contain problems with ants.
Consulting a pest control professional is always a good option, but some methods to try right away include:
- Insecticide bait which ants mistake as food and take back to their nests and poisons the colony
- Barriers, such as caulking, weather-stripping, and removing food/water sources
- Clean, clean, clean. Ants are habitual. If they have targeted an area, remove the source and clean
Ah, the primitive, pesky cockroach. Australia has its own namesake, the Australian cockroach which is a common cockroach in many tropical areas. It is an adaptable scavenger and slightly smaller than its American cousin. Most likely from Africa, it is not native to Australia.
How Many Types of Cockroaches Exist?
In the same family as termites, it is believed that over 450 subspecies exist in Australia. The world’s biggest and heaviest cockroach is the giant burrowing cockroach.
These are native cockroaches and are found mostly in the tropical areas of Queensland. It grows to about 3 inches in length and has been known to live up to ten years! As the name suggests, they borrow up to three feet where they set up home. Good news, these cockroaches are unable to fly and are not considered a relevant pest.
Cockroaches are social creatures and often make community decisions about seeking food sources. Several varieties do make hissing sounds, such as the Madagascar hissing cockroach, and others make sounds and respond to vibration during mating. A primitive species, cockroaches do not tolerate cold very well.
However, some subspecies do produce their own anti-freeze which allows them to live at temperatures up to -122 degrees C.
Are All Cockroaches Considered to be Pest?
Arguably, no, only about four commonly, widespread species are pests.
However, such a distinction depends on who’s being asked, we suppose. These species are considered pests because they contribute to:
- Allergies and asthma
- Disease spread
- Can burrow into ears causing pain and deafness
How Can I Best Control Cockroaches?
Being quite adaptable, they often become resistant to pesticides that are people use repeatedly. Effective methods of control have been installing bait and trapping, then drowning them in beer (works well on American but not German roaches).
A certain wasp feeds on cockroaches but has proven to be an ineffective method of biological control. In the long-term, pesticides will become ineffective for control necessitating the need for biological and sanitary control innovations.
Fleas are the common name for small, insects without wings. There are over 2,500 species of fleas. They are extraordinary jumpers, leaping up to 50 times their body length. They are annoying pests, especially to pets, because their bite can produce allergic reactions that can last up to two weeks.
What is the Lifestyle of the Flea?
Fleas are parasites that live off sucking the blood of a host mammal. Cats, dogs, birds, and humans can suffer mild to severe reactions to these bites. These reactions can last two weeks and can cause hair and feather loss in host animals due to excessive biting and scratching.
As adults, their primary activities are feeding on blood and procreating. Depending on conditions, fleas can live up to one year but generally live only two to three months.
Are Fleas Dangerous to Humans?
In a word, yes. While flea bites usually just cause irritating itching at the bite site, fleas can host many viruses, bacteria, and rickets-producing organisms.
Fleas on oriental rats can transmit bubonic plague from rats to humans through bites. Most fleas from household pets can fly and bite humans. However, in areas with poor sanitation, fleas can seek humans as primary hosts.
How Can We Control Fleas?
Flea control is important because of the possibility that they can spread disease. Oral flea prevention medications containing fluralaner are available for dogs. Bathing pets and checking for fleas regularly, along with routine sanitary practices, such as washing pet bedding and cages regularly, helps reduce the infestation by preventing the laying of eggs.
Parasite insects that consume human and animal blood, tick species number around 800 worldwide. Australia is home to about 70 species with 16 of those thought to feed on humans.
Why are Ticks Considered a Pest?
Ticks are considered a pest because they can spread serious diseases. Most common to Eastern Australia, the paralysis tick can infect humans with severe illness such as fever, rashes, flu-like symptoms and, in rare cases, shock and facial paralysis. Tick paralysis is most common in children when ticks bite them. It can also occur in adults. Other tick-borne illnesses include Queensland Tick typhus and Flinders Island spotted fever.
Preventing Tick Bites is Key to Staying Healthy
Prevention of tick bites is the best protection against tick-borne illness.
Ticks are most active during humid weather and rainy seasons in the spring. If you are regularly outside when and where ticks are active, it would be best to take the following precautions:
- Avoid places where ticks thrive
- Wear long pants and tuck pant cuffs into socks
- Put on long sleeves that are secure to the wrists
- Wear light-colored clothing as this makes ticks more visible
- Remove any visual ticks from clothing and skin right away
- Apply topical sprays containing DEET to repel ticks
What are Some of the Best Ways to Control Ticks at my Home?
As with most pest control, sanitation is king. Also, preventing ticks from entering the living area is a great proactive measure, so check for the presence of ticks whenever a child, adult or pet comes in from outside. Clean, use insecticide and visually inspect pet areas.
Removing ticks before they bite is much easier than trying to remove an engorged tick, however, a word of caution: do not use hot pins, matches or any kerosene product to remove ticks that have embedded. Always use fine-tipped forceps in order to ensure full removal.
5. Bed Bugs
Bed bugs are small, blood-feeding insects that attach themselves to soft furnishings and items like luggage. They infest areas quickly and look for humans to bite, usually when a person is asleep.
Are Bed Bugs Dangerous?
In terms of disease, no, but in terms of your wallet after an infestation, yes. Bed bugs are masters at hiding and insecticide alone will not kill them. Carried in on luggage or used furniture, once inside your house they hide in bed seams, couch cushions, curtains or any soft furnishings.
They are not known to carry any diseases but avoiding and preventing being infested is the best control method.
How Do I Prevent Bed Bugs?
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as the saying goes. If you can keep bed bugs out of your home in the first place it will be worth the work necessary to detect them.
Here are some preventive measures to be done to protect your home from these pesky creatures:
- Inspect any used furniture, bedding and bed frames before bringing them inside
- Check any luggage or tote bags for bed bugs before bringing the items into your house
- Never put luggage on a bed for unpacking
What if Bed Bugs do Make it into my House?
Even the most precautious homeowner can experience a problem with bed bugs. Your house can be spotless yet one piece of luggage from an overnight trip can bring in a family of bed bugs. The first thing you want to do in this circumstance is to contact a professional insect control company.
Ridding your house of bed bugs will likely involve every room and requires a two-step process. Because they hide well and are very mobile, the first step is applying an insecticide, followed by steam treatment. Insecticides do not kill all stages of bed bugs, but steam does.
Now common in Southern Australia, Portuguese millipedes were first seen in 1953 in Port Lincoln. They are not native to Australia, but often become a problem after a dry winter and wet spring.
Aren’t Millipedes Deadly?
No, they are not deadly. However, they are messy and have been known to grow to plague-level quantities depending on the weather conditions. Also, if crushed they emit a noticeable, unique smell that can linger.
Like most invasive species, they have no natural predators which account for infestations. With over 12,000 species, millipedes are arthropods who have not been known to cause economic or biological damage to humans or their habitats.
How Can You Control Millipedes in your Garden or Home?
Millipedes feed on dead leaves and fungi. So, like with most pests, removing food sources goes a long way to deter them from hanging around.
Their main job is to eat and procreate, so if you have nothing to feed them, they will generally move on. Be aware though, they do like to feed on seedlings, so extra care will be needed when starting new plants for a season.
The good news is that they are relatively easy to control if they do take a liking to your property. The best prevention and elimination methods include:
- Removing all decaying plant matter from gardens and around buildings
- Use human and pet-friendly insecticides
- Prevent mold and fungus from forming
- Seal all cracks and crevasses around the home
Why are Millipedes Considered to be Pests?
Some species have been known to cause damage to thatched roofs (India), crops (internationally) and have even delayed trains because of swarming behavior. Since they do not have a poisonous bite or create severe economic damage, when they swarm and cover walls inside houses, millipedes can rightly be considered a nuisance.
Again, prevention is key to controlling any pest or nuisance. While you might not be able to eradicate millipedes, as pests go, they are not considered a challenge to control.
7. Rodents (Rats and Mice)
From the white-footed rabbit rat to the long-haired rat, many are native to Australia. With European settlement came the house mouse, black and brown rats and two types of squirrels. Depending on your point of view, some or all of these are looked upon as problem pests.
Which Rodents Need to be Controlled?
Native rodents like the hopping mouse are not considered a threat and are a protected species. As part of the food chain, they are prey for their natural predators. Invasive species such as the black and brown rats carry diseases like typhus and can cause crop and structural damage. Since invasive rodents have no natural predator, humans must find ways to control and/or eradicate such creatures.
What is the Difference Between Mice and Rats?
Rats are larger than mice, sometimes twice the size. Rats reach up to 25 cm in length and weigh up to 400 grams. Mice are about half the size, up to 10 cm long and weigh about 30 grams. Young rats can be confused with mice. Mice and rodents have continuously growing teeth that require gnawing to shorten.
Why are Rats and Mice Considered to be Pests?
Non-native rodents are a problem because they carry diseases such as typhus and leptospirosis. Also, to get in and out of dwellings they chew through wood, sheetrock and can damage electrical and plumbing fixtures. Lastly, they can ruin food gardens. Native rodents can be damaging, as well, but generally, do not carry the threat of disease.
If your property has a rodent problem, and you can do so safely, identifying the type of rodent has advantages. Native rodents are generally controlled by natural predators, non-native rodents need human intervention for control and eradication.
What are the Best Ways to Control Rodents?
The most common pest rodents are non-native species, the Norway rat (brown rat), the roof rat (black rat), and the house mouse. Again, rats are larger than mice. All have life spans of about 12 months.
Rats average between four to six litters per year and the mouse averages about six to ten litters per year. As you can see, those numbers can add up to an infestation quickly if not brought under control. If you see evidence of rodent “droppings” or small chew marks on fruit, immediately do the following:
- Clean all areas thoroughly
- Discard any food that might have been in contact with the rodent
- Set traps and baits (rodenticides) in safe areas near nests but out of reach of children and pets
- Keep a record of trap and bait placement
- Remove access to all food and water sources
- Seal any openings at the foundation of buildings with strong barriers (cement, steel wool)
- Repair all water leaks and remove excess yard plantings
- Check baits and traps regularly for dead rodents
- When removing dead rodents, wear gloves and dispose of safely in sealed rubbish bins
- Spray area around dead rodents with insecticides to kill fleas that are carried by rodents
Are there Natural Methods of Rodent Control?
Native rodents are controlled by food chain activity when they are eaten by predators. Invading species must be controlled through trapping or using rodent bait. Snakes, cats and other meat-eating animals usually will not eat invasive species.
Silverfish are small, wingless insects with tapering tails and antennae. They are silver in color and move in a wiggle like a fish. Mostly nocturnal, they prefer dark, humid spaces.
Do silverfish bite?
While silverfish do not bite, they are destructive because of their diet. Silverfish thrive in moist, undisturbed areas with a source of food containing starches and dextrin. Items, such as book-bindings, wallpaper, photos and carpeting, all have adhesives which are sources of food, especially in humid areas. These little insects can be quite damaging to tapestries and linens.
Do Silverfish Spread Disease?
They do not spread disease but can contaminate food. Also, they can go a year without eating if no food source is available or they will eat alternate items such as synthetic fabric.
How Can Silverfish be Controlled?
Even though they don’t spread disease, they can be, surprisingly, quite damaging. They do have natural predators like spiders and house centipedes, however, the most common control method is the use of insecticides, since most people are not keen on the idea of spreading centipedes and spiders around their houses.
Speaking of spiders, they have an unearned bad reputation. Generally, they should be left alone, when possible, because they are an important part of the ecosystem. Most of the common spiders in Australia don’t really count as pests but can be a problem if they become excessive and if they get into your home.
Aren’t a Lot of Spider Bites Deadly?
In general, the most common spiders are not even aggressive, much less deadly. Spiders that can be poisonous are the funnel web, red-back, and white-tail varieties. Most at risk for problems around the bites of these spiders are children and the elderly.
Most spider bites only cause pain and minor swelling at the bite. However, if spider bites you and you are allergic to the venom, seek treatment immediately. Spiders, in fact, help control other insects that are pests, such as millipedes.
How can Spiders be Avoided?
Often found in gardens where they like to make webs or burrow to nest, the most common bites are related to gardening. Because spiders are well-spread throughout most of Australia, if you are an avid gardener you will want to take the following precautions:
- Check for spider webs before you start digging or handling plants
- Always wear protective gloves and shoes when gardening
- Use basic first aid when a spider bites you unless you have a severe reaction
Since most spiders are beneficial to gardens by helping control other damaging pests, relocating spiders whenever possible is the best option. In your home, the best protection against spider bites is to prevent them from entering the house.
Spiders are easy to deter with fly screens on windows and basic draft protection. Spider-specific insecticide should be a last resort only in the case of an infestation.
Spiders are our friends.
In a case of benefit outweighing the harm, we should respect spiders rather than fear them. Teaching children to identify spiders and how to relocate them safely is beneficial to the entire ecosystem.
Australia has over 350 species of termites with only about 20 of those considered to be pests because of the damage they can cause to buildings. The common term “white ants” is not accurate because termites are neither white nor ants.
Aren’t all Termites Destructive?
In the wild termites perform a vital ecological service for many in the food chain. For example, termites can assist in soil nutrition and help to make holes so that lizards and birds can nest.
How can Destructive Termites be Controlled?
Those termites that are destructive need a humidity source, such as leaky plumbing, which will help the nest stay moist. Another key to effective eradication of a termite colony is identifying the species as treatments are species-specific. It is mostly easy to identify termites by their soldier class because those are the largest termites in a colony.
For instance, the most destructive termite in Victoria is the coptotermes, a soldier with a distinctive pear-shaped head, and brown, saber jaws. When disturbed they spew a glue-like substance. The following is a recommended plan of attack against a termite attack:
- Repair all sources of water leaks and moisture at building foundations
- Remove and keep all loose timber stored away from buildings
- Apply anti-termite dust and bait in known colony areas
- Use chemical barriers buried around foundations
- Use non-wood physical barriers such as crushed granite and steel mesh
- Build with treated timber
- Build with timber that is a natural deterrent, such as red gum
It is a recommendation to try and eradicate the existing colony prior to creating any new barrier for better control. Termites are nothing if not persistent. Without dealing with the colony, any replacement or repair to the structure is subject to ongoing damage.
Australia is home to many varieties of native wasps that prove to be beneficial during pollination and are, generally, harmless. Its cousin, the European wasp, is an imported species with no known controlling predator, and, therefore, a pest.
How is one wasp different from another wasp?
A European wasp is smaller than the native flower wasp but about the same size as the native yellow paper wasp. The major difference between the two is their flight habits. European wasps hold their legs close to the body and fly quickly.
Native paper wasps hover with their legs dangling over their target. Paper wasps have golf ball size nests above ground unlike European wasps who colonize unseen with nests up to the size of a basketball.
European wasps are more aggressive towards humans, although, all wasps can sting. Neither should be confused for honeybees which are rounder and have different stinger applications. Both have backward-facing stingers. Wasps can remove their stingers after attack allowing them to keep attacking. Honeybees cannot re-sting because the stinger is removed from the abdomen.
Locating the Nest is Key to Control.
European wasps can travel quite far, up to a one-half kilometer from its nest so locating the nest for removal can be a challenge. European wasps build their nests in the ground, so once found, proceed with caution. If the colony feels threatened, they will attack and summon their buddies for help.
What is the Best Form of Wasp Control?
Removing and destroying the nest is the only way to eradicate a colony of European wasps. Trying the following method will hope to locate a nest:
- Place food (pet food or meat) in an open outdoor site
- Once the wasp discovers the food, they will return directly to their nest
- Follow the wasp back to their nest and spray with wasp-specific insecticide.
To prevent European wasps from colonizing in the first place, it is recommended to:
- Remove all food waste to a secure rubbish bin
- Cover food at picnics
- Cover compost heaps
- Keep unused pools covered
- Drink out of closed containers using straws
The most important thing to remember about wasps is to try not to disturb or threaten the colony. Wasps who feel threatened will most likely attack in response and can sting repeatedly.
As with most pest control, proactive is better than reactive. Where ever possible, prevention reduces exposure to insects and, sometimes, the hazardous chemicals used to kill them. Check clothing and pets after you have been outside to reduce the chances of carrying insects inside your home.
If you do need to use chemicals make sure to read directions carefully and use only the amount necessary. With a little effort and proper preparation, pest problems can be a thing of the past.