Now is the time to evict autumn’s unwelcome house guests

Published 9:13 am Wednesday, November 30, 2011

by Neil Clark

They’re tiny. They’re cute. They’re fuzzy. They’re menacing killers. They are mice.

It is that time of year again. Fields have been harvested and the air has turned cool. And these proliferating critters head for shelter in droves.

I used to live in the country in a less-than-airtight, 60-year-old home surrounded by hundreds of acres of peanut ground. So, I had full expectations of having to purge these varmints each fall.

But since then, a move to the ‘burbs into a much more modern, well-sealed home that is a mile or two from any plowed ground had me thinking my exterminating days were over. Wrong.

Just a few weeks ago, I awoke in the middle of the night to hear a chewing sound in my wall. My coddled, canned-food-fed feline expressed some displeasure, but was unwilling or unable to intervene. So once again I prepared myself for intervention.

There are several species of mice and a few rats that cause problems in residential areas — house mice, field mice, deer mice, white-footed mice, Norway and roof rats are among the most frequent offenders. These critters require little or no free water and can reproduce rapidly having six to 10 litters per year.

Mice are known to be vectors of various plagues resulting in the deaths of millions. And although it has been some time since a major outbreak, several still die each year from mouse-related diseases.

Hantavirus and salmonella are more frequent problems in the United States. There have been more than 200 cases of hantavirus since 1993 with most cases in the West. However, three additional strains surfaced in the Eastern United States during this time period.

Hantavirus is spread by rodent excrement which can get in the air as dust when rodent droppings or nests are stirred up. Thus it is recommended to wet contaminated areas with a disinfectant and wipe the area with gloved hands rather than sweeping up or vacuuming droppings, urine or nesting materials.

Keeping a clean house without exposed food (including pet foods) as well as proper storage and handling of food materials, feed and garbage will reduce chances of attracting mice. Store bulk foods in rodent-proof containers away from walls. Keep food preparation and eating areas cleaned and disinfected. Do not leave pet food bowls out overnight

One of the common-sense recommendations is sealing entry points into your home. The area where the siding meets the foundation is particularly important as well as locations where plumbing and heating and air conditioning connections breach the foundation.

Due to the mouse’s well-known chewing ability, steel wool is recommended as a preferred barrier. Since mice can pass through dime-size openings, it is nearly impossible to find and seal every entry. So while sealing up your home reduces the frequency of invasion, it is by no means 100 percent effective.

A multi-pronged approach is often required for mouse control here in peanut country. Having a cat that is a good mouser may be one. However some mice will inevitably slip by and take up residence inaccessible to feline patrol. Installation of bait stations around the exterior of the house or outbuildings is another good practice.

The best solution in avoiding a mouse problem is early detection and removal. If allowed to get out of hand, your cute little innocent-looking friend will soon leave you with piles of refuse and debris that would make any college frat house proud. Never mind the severed electrical wires and the removal of the cushioning from the family heirloom sofa. As soon as you have any sightings, or detect any droppings or hear or see signs of chewing, it is time to take action.

There are a number of baits and traps to choose from. While each may have its place, the old standby wooden snap-trap is probably the most effective. Place them in the areas where a sign is detected as mice typically only venture less than 30 feet from their homebase.

Bait with peanut butter and place such that the snap action is going toward the wall. Two traps placed side-by-side with as large triggers as possible increases the odds of successful functioning.

These traps should be monitored daily. Glue boards can be used instead of snap traps; however they seem to be less humane and still leave you with the challenging task of dispatching with the intruder. Live traps are available for folks with that philosophical bent; however they should be checked regularly to be consistent and avoid inadvertent suffering. The mice should then be relocated as far from the residence as possible.

Bait should primarily be used outside the home and placed in out of reach of pets and children. Baits placed in the home have the negative consequence of attracting mice to the home, and if successful, the unfortunate side effect of smelly corpses.

If you have more than a “small problem,” it may be time to call in the pros as trapping would be ineffective or at best exhausting.

NEIL CLARK is an agent with the Southampton County Extension office and can be reached at