Ah, springtime. The season of warmer weather, flowers blossoming, birds singing—and the start of a cycle that can bring out dangerous pests. “The bloom of the flowers brings out the insects, the insects bring out smaller critters that eat them, and those smaller critters bring out larger critters that feed on them,” said Bryan Kuhn, PharmD, a pharmacist and poison education specialist at Banner - University Medical Center Phoenix.
While you want to enjoy the springtime outdoors, you also want to make your home, yard and garden less attractive to the bugs and animals that can make it unpleasant to be outside. Depending on where you live and what type of home you have, you might face off with different types of pests including:
- Scorpions, which can cause a painful sting, though the Arizona bark scorpion is the only one in the southwest that’s toxic enough to require hospitalization. “With scorpions, we see an uptick in call volume in the spring and it follows a nice curve all through summer,” Kuhn said.
- Spiders, which can bite if you disrupt their nest. Most spider bites aren’t serious enough that you need to be hospitalized. “The bigger concern is the risk of infection,” Dr. Kuhn said.
- Centipedes, which can cause a painful bite, but the type found around your home generally don’t cause serious problems.
- Ticks, which can cause Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease.
- Snakes and rattlesnakes, which hibernate during the winter and are ready to eat in the spring. “Once the cold subsides and the food chain starts growing, they come out, and they’ll strike at anything—they’re hungry,” Kuhn said.
- Bats, which can cause rabies. Larger animals like raccoons, foxes, and bobcats can also be infected with rabies but you’re less likely to run into them.
Dr. Kuhn’s top tip to keep them away? Have a professional assess your property. Professionals understand the local flora and fauna on a micro level. They can evaluate your property and point out areas that are attractive homes for pests and sources for their food. “A professional can identify the type of tree that might attract a particular type of ant or spider or find potential points of entry for scorpions or spiders,” Kuhn said.
Make your yard less hospitable
If you’re looking for a DIY approach for keeping these backyard bugs and pests away instead of hiring a pro, here’s what Dr. Kuhn recommends:
- Keep your yard tidy. Cut your grass regularly and pull weeds before they get overgrown.
- Move wood and leaf piles to the edge of your property. If you need to stack wood or pile up leaves, keep it away from your home and the parts of your yard you use a lotas they attract pests You can get a den of mice living in a leaf pile, and they can attract snakes.
- Seal cracks and gaps. If you can slide a coin into a gap at the bottom of your door or window or a crack in your foundation, a scorpion could get in.
- Use pesticides appropriately. “If you spray for cockroaches and crickets you’ll tend not to see as many scorpions, since that’s their food source,” Kuhn said.
- Take care if you’re entering a building that’s been unoccupied. Bats can settle in vacant sheds and structures, especially in rural areas.
- Wear gloves when you work in your yard and be careful what you touch. Dr. Kuhn said the pencil cactus or firestick has one of the most irritating types of sap. “People are sweating, and they rub their brow with their glove and the sap gets into their eye,” Dr. Kuhn said. “It won’t cause blindness, but it’s super painful and the irritation is ungodly.”
If you get bitten or stung or your eyes get irritated, call the poison control center at 800-222-1222. “We can help manage patients at home and provide follow up—we can call back in a couple of hours to check in and assess symptoms. And we do it for free,” Dr. Kuhn said. “Especially in this time of COVID, we don’t want to send people to the hospital unnecessarily.”
The bottom line
Springtime brings out the bugs and critters that can bite and sting. To reduce your risk, take steps to make your home and yard less inviting to them and their food sources.
If you get bitten or stung and you’re not sure what to do, call 800-222-1222 anytime, day or night. With this number you’ll be connected to the Banner Poison & Drug Information Center in Phoenix or the closest poison control center.