Little did I know when I started this pest control blog that I'd have such good fodder from my own life.
It was supposed to be a fluke.
The bat I found in my house recently (see the 4/22/2005 post, "Slightly batty") was just a wayward creature who flew in through the side door off the kitchen as I was taking my trash out one night. At least, that's the story I devised to help me sleep better in my house after the bat sighting. Neighbors around me, confirming the fluke theory, had never heard of anyone on our street with a bat problem.
No such luck. It was no fluke.
Saturday night I arrived home just before 9 p.m. -- right at dusk. I had returned from a two-and-a-half day road trip to Seattle for work and fun. Entering my house, I turned on the lights and walked into the dining room. As my cat Heathcliff was coming to greet me, something else did too. A black, winged thing zoomed past my head. I turned to see it circling my living room twice and then flying toward me.
Had I not dealt with the bat in my house at the beginning of the month, I would have thought this was a small bird. After all, I had one get in my house once, through the chimney. But it took only a split second for my brain to register that this was indeed another bat. I screamed and ran for the nearest exit: the kitchen door. Muttering "not again," along with some other choice words, I headed next door to Dale and Rhonda's.
This time, I was not as frantic... just irritated, and tired from my five-hour drive. So when Dale came to the door and I told him what happened, he didn't believe me at first. I assured him this was no joke.
Since the bat was flying this time, Dale knew he needed backup. Jason from across the street was just the man for the job, having dealt with many bats in his native Austin, Texas. Armed with a big broom and a pair of work gloves between them, they went inside the house and eventually found the bat in a back room. After a few minutes, they emerged with Dale holding the bat in his gloved, cupped hands.
I called a good friend to verbally process this whole ordeal, and she offered to have me stay at her place. But I really wanted to be in my home after being gone for two nights. So I had her and two other friends come up and sit with me in the living room while I tried to get comfortable being in my own house. It worked somewhat, but I still needed to sleep with my light on.
Morning came, and I went downstairs to get the paper and feed the cats. I sat down in the living room and prepared to peruse the paper when I noticed that one of my touch-sensitive wall sconces was on, which was odd. As I went to turn it off, I happened to look upward toward my box-beam ceiling.
THERE WAS ANOTHER BAT!
I screamed again and, near tears, ran to get Dale and Jason. Since the bat was sleeping, Jason was able to get on a ladder and grab it (with the gloves on, of course).
The immediate problem was once again solved, but sorrow set in for me. I wondered, do I have a colony living in my house? The very thought made me fearful to go back inside.
Grabbing the Yellow Pages, I looked up the pest control operators in the area. The one I called first was the only one to call himself a bat removal specialist, under the company name "Skunkworks." Of course, this being Sunday and Memorial Day weekend, I had to leave messages with Skunkworks and everyone else. Expecting to wait until Tuesday for a call-back, I plotted my course of action in the meantime, which was to pack a bag and stay with friends.
Later that evening, Matt from Skunkworks called me back. He is meeting me Wednesday morning for an inspection at the house. If anyone can solve this problem, he can -- he's been doing this for 16 years.
Is it irrational for me to leave the house? Probably. Bats don't attack humans -- they are as frightened of us as we are of them. And if they have taken up residence in the house, they would be sleeping during the day and leaving it at night. But I simply can't relax in my own house. I enter each room with hesitation and tension, expecting to see another bat hanging upside down or, even worse, swooping down towards me. I can't live like that.
Stay tuned Wednesday for the Skunkworks diagnosis... Dare I say it, "Same bat time, same bat channel."
Identifying the nest
Since this is the time of year when yellowjacket queens are establishing and building their nests, a little education is in order to differentiate between the nests of yellowjackets, wasps and hornets.
With yellowjackets, it is rare to actually see the whole nest. Most often, the nests are constructed underground, with a single opening. This is why mowing lawns and clearing brush in late summer can be dangerous -- one can unwittingly disturb a yellowjacket nest with such activity.
Yellowjacket nests can also sometimes be built in the wall void of a house. In the photo below, this is what happened... however, the yellowjacket brood grew so much that they had to spill out of the wall void and build an addition!
Wasp nests are usually built under the eaves of buildings. They are small and consist of exposed honeycomb-like cells.
Bald-faced hornet nests are usually built in a tree. The nest is often obscured by the tree's leaves and may not be discovered until fall. Bald-faced hornet nests can get rather large... basketball to beach-ball size. The nest consists of many individual cells, but it is covered with a grayish paper envelope. There is one opening at the bottom.
Look for a longer upcoming post about "Identifying the pest," to learn more about the differences between yellowjackets, wasps and bald-faced hornets.
While I have yet to read any news of yellowjacket infestations this year (it is early in the season, after all), I have been able to see countless stories about sports teams named for this small yellow-and-black pest. From Little League to college sports (most notably, Georgia Tech), it seems quite popular for a team to call itself the Yellowjackets. No wonder. Yellowjackets are aggressive, with a painful sting and bite. They strike fear in the hearts of anyone who dares to oppose them. The colors yellow and black are a striking combination. The name lends itself to punny newspaper headlines using various forms of the words "sting", "swarm" and "buzz." Plus, yellowjackets are politically neutral -- no danger of any minority groups protesting the name or the mascot because it's not P.C.
So I will keep monitoring these newsalerts daily for any pertinent bug stories. And in the meantime, I'll be seeing anywhere from one to six stories per day come through my inbox about the results of the Yellowjackets' last game or meet, be it in California, Kansas, Georgia or anywhere across this fruited plain.
Queen Watch, pt. 2
Number of yellowjacket queens found in my house: 4
Number of yellowjacket queens seen hovering near food while eating outdoors: 1
Number of yellowjacket queens seen while having coffee inside the Rocket Bakery: 1
Number of yellowjacket queens caught inside a plastic solo cup (after iced mocha was consumed) and taken back to our R&D lab for testing: 1
Number of Rocket Bakery customers wondering why crazy lady was so intent on catching yellowjacket inside solo cup: 3
Don't let the bedbugs bite
"Good night, sleep tight; don't let the bedbugs bite!"
I heard this little rhyme in my childhood, but I don't recall ever believing that bedbugs were real. Good thing. If I had known what they actually do -- get into mattresses, chew on sleeping humans and suck their blood -- I would have been very reluctant to crawl in between the bedsheets each night.
Actually, bedbugs were a problem until the 1950s, and then insecticides such as DDT reduced their numbers. But they are returning. Just ask people in Kansas, where residents are battling a bedbug infestation.