Terribly Helpful: How To Identify Household Pests

updated May 4, 2019
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Last spring, I celebrated sundress weather with some huge, blotchy bites on my calves. San Francisco is known for its lack of mosquitoes, so I did the sensible thing and panicked: BEDBUGS. Nope — it was spiders! In an effort to save you the same confusion, I’ve put together this list of tips for IDing your household pests.

Bite in the night? Get yourself to a doctor. After consulting every bedbug website ever created and practically boiling all my sheets and clothes, and after a useless check by a landlord-hired exterminator (Him: “I won’t do a thorough bedbug check unless I know for sure that’s what you have.” Me: “…….”), I finally went to the doctor. He glanced at my bites: “Spider. No question.” He then consulted the Big Book Of Skin Ailments, and sure enough, my bites had every unique characteristic of spider bites. A bit of ointment and a can of bug spray later, and all of my problems were solved. (I sincerely hope I didn’t kill the spiders, but just discouraged them from joining me in bed.) To make a long story longer, a good doctor can save you tons of worry and discomfort — and worse — so get yourself checked out as soon as possible.

Lying awake worrying? Console/terrify yourself until your appointment. WebMD has a helpful visual glossary of various pests and what their bites look like immediately after the fact, as well as days later. Please note that it is NOT comprehensive. For example, while there were images for Black Widow and Brown Recluse spiders, there were no mentions of less-poisonous varieties.

Mouse in the house? SF Gate has a handy 5-point reference to tell if you’re sharing your home with rats &/or mice. Especially horrifying helpful hint: “Rats can chew their way through pipes, chair legs and plastic containers.”

Got moths? I have battled with pantry moths on and off, and have learned to sense their presence before I actually see one. As the Seattle Times reported, “You can identify their presence by either seeing them up-close (they are very small, white and worm-like) or the silk thread they produce.” Spotting the silk threads in my pantry items alerts me to the fact that tiny hard-to-see moths are present, allowing me to make an informed decision on whether to eat that oatmeal anyway or not.

Squirrels in the attic? If you hear creepy rustling around in your attic that makes you feel like you’re living in a V.C. Andrews novel, you might have squirrels. Or raccoons, or flying squirrels — Wildlife Hotline is here to help you figure out which one you’ve got.

Shy cockroaches? I can’t imagine a world in which one would have a cockroach infestation and yet be spared the sight of the cockroaches themselves, but if you think that’s what’s happening, Wise Geek has the telltale signs.

Termites eating your house? If you don’t conveniently fall through the porch like Lorelai Gilmore did in the “Secrets and Loans” episode, HowStuffWorks lists signs that you might have termites, as well as how to distinguish them from ants.