Why mice love our suburban homes
If there's a mouse in your house ... well, it was bound to happen.
There's a saying in the pest control industry: There are two types of houses -- ones that have mice problems and ones that are going to have mice problems. Another saying: If you see one mouse, there are likely six more.
This is the time of year when those problems crop up.
Mice typically live outdoors, surviving on grass seed, bird seed, pet food and garbage until temperatures get too low, experts say. As frost and deep cold set in, the rodents look for a warm home, be it in our houses, garages or offices -- or even in the covers on our air-conditioning units.
While local members of the National Pest Management Association say there are no indications this year's mouse infestation is any worse than those of the past two years, Anderson Pest Solutions, with offices throughout the region, has seen a 270 percent increase in mouse calls across the suburbs when comparing October to this July.
Which shows these pesky rodents are on their way inside, where they'll start snacking on pantry items and making babies. If ignored, the problem will only grow.
Mice can breed as many as 10 times a year, producing five or six offspring each litter. It takes a mouse only six weeks to reach sexual maturity. Experts such as Michael Bentley, an entomologist and director of training and education for the National Pest Management Association, say the critters aren't to be taken lightly.
"It's easy to underestimate the problems that such a small rodent can create and how dangerous something seemingly small and cute can be," Bentley said. "But they can continue to expand exponentially inside someone's home, which just further increases the risk for spreading disease and food contamination and all sorts of bad things."
If a mouse is in the house, it may be tempting to get some poison and wait. But pest control experts don't recommend poisons because they can be toxic and the resulting dead mice decompose and smell rotten for weeks in hidden areas of the home.
Instead, experts such as entomologist Thomas Dobrinska, technical director for Anderson Pest Solutions, recommend trying nontoxic methods such as snap traps and glue boards, then giving up quickly and hiring a professional if they're not working.
This recommendation isn't to drum up business, Bentley said. It's for health and safety.
"They're one of the most dangerous and costly pests that we deal with on a regular basis because of the risk for food-borne illness. They can spread salmonella. Their feces can carry illnesses. Their bites themselves can make us sick," he said. "There's a number of scary health factors that become a concern when you're dealing with mouse infestation."
Jason Gibbons, owner of Woodridge-based Men in Black Pest Control Services, says he always advises people not to clean up mouse droppings without first visiting the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which details a safe step-by-step procedure. Mice and their droppings can cause serious diseases in humans, including hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, leptospirosis and salmonellosis.
"People die from these nasty viruses. It really does happen," Gibbons said. "You can actually put your family at risk cleaning this stuff up."
Pest control pros have the protective gear, training and decontamination solutions to clean up droppings safely.
While cities struggle with rats, which breed even faster than mice (two rats can turn into 2,000 within a year, given enough food and space, according to Anderson Pest Solutions), the suburbs seem to be the domain of mice.
Gibbons says this is a nod to history. Not 25 years ago, many regions now populated with houses were home to farms and fields where mice would run wild, finding food, water and shelter aplenty, especially within bushes and trees.
Clear away the trees and put up some houses, and there will still be mice running around.
"Instead of looking for their usual warm spots in the winter, they've got these nice houses here to pick up the heat from," Gibbons said. "Out here in the suburbs, we've got the perfect conditions."
Warmer weather patterns only intensify the problem, allowing mice more outdoor time in the spring, summer and fall to breed. These extra generations create a larger population of mice all looking for a winter abode indoors come November.
A change as small as a neighbor's not dealing with a brush pile can make one area more attractive to mice than the next, furthering the theory that it's not a matter of if a house will encounter mouse issues but when, says Bentley with the National Pest Management Association.
"It could just be," he said, "that luck ran out."