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WEDNESDAY, JUNE 27, 2007
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Drought causes rise in pests seeking water

MONTGOMERY (AP) — In addition to wilting plants and water restrictions, homeowners are seeing a rise in unwelcome invasions of creepy crawly visitors because of the drought.

Wildlife experts and pest control professionals say insect infestations are up as increased numbers of ants and cockroaches enter homes seeking water. Rodents and snakes — which typically prefer to avoid humans — are also venturing into densely populated areas as their water sources dry up.

"Ants are on the move looking for a source of water, and it has drastically increased the number of calls we've gotten," said Brian Lee, manager of the Terminix branch in Huntsville.

He estimated that calls are up 162 percent from last year at this time. The firm's Birmingham branch reported 20 to 25 percent more calls than usual.

Orkin, another national pest control firm, also reports a rise in insect infestations across the Southeast. The Montgomery branch is seeing a 20 percent increase in ant activity and a 10 percent jump in roach activity.

In Marietta, Ga., roach activity is up about 15 percent, and in Jacksonville, Fla., they are fielding about 20 percent more roach calls than usual.

Both pest control firms have also noticed a spike in rodent calls, unusual for this time of year.

Rodents generally enter homes in October as temperatures fall, and homeowners usually report infestations in January and February when the first litters of baby rats and mice start running around, said Ron Harrison, director of training for Orkin. Usually, exterminators report very few, if any, rodent calls between May and October, he said.

"Rodents would prefer not to be around humans, but if they're hungry or thirsty enough, they'll put up with it," Harrison said.

In Alabama, there have also been a number of media reports of snake bites in recent weeks. This, too, could be a side-effect of the drought.

"It makes sense that snakes would come out in dry weather," said Bill Gates, a wildlife biologist at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in Decatur. "When their watering holes dry up, they start looking for water elsewhere, and it's normal that in that process they might come into more contact with humans."

Al Bryan, who has a wildlife removal business in Huntsville, said he has gotten twice as many calls for snake removal this month than he did last year in June. He said he has also seen more instances of snakes inside homes, whereas he normally gets calls for a snake in a yard or a tool shed.

Lynn Hampton, with Animal Control Experts in the Birmingham area, said "there have probably been more snake calls than usual."

She explained that snakes are prey specific, meaning they live where their food source is. If insects, mice and other small rodents that snakes eat are moving toward homes in search of food, the snakes are likely to follow.

Most of the Southeast is in at least a moderate drought, and most of Alabama and parts of five other states are in an extreme drought. The U.S. Drought Monitor also reported Monday that nearly all of northern Alabama and southeastern middle Tennessee remain in the "exceptional drought" category, the worst of the five-level classification system. No other part of the country was reported in that category.

With the dry conditions showing no signs of letting up, homeowners could face more problems as the summer continues. But is there anything they can do to stop invading pests?

"There really isn't much you can do to make water less available in your house," said University of Georgia entomology professor Brian Forschler. "Every drain or faucet in the house has at least a little water in it, and that's all they need."

What people can do, Forschler said, is try to keep the critters from getting inside in the first place. One of the easiest solutions is to install door sweeps on exterior doors and to make sure all doors and windows are tightly sealed.

He also said the mulch on plants around homes is usually an ideal home for insects since it retains water. But as it dries out, the insects naturally go into the nearby homes in search of hydration. So keeping mulching and watering in mulched areas to a minimum is a good idea.

To combat rodent invaders, Harrison said it helps to prune shrubs near the home because rodents don't like to travel out in the open and are less likely to go toward a house if there's nothing for them to hide under along the way. He also recommended not leaving standing water around and to be careful about putting out birdseed too close to the house.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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