Know What’s Creeping in Your Basement

Do you know what’s crawling around in your basement? Chances are if you have a basement, then you have things that creep and crawl. Basements and crawl spaces are particularly vulnerable to crawling pests because they are usually cool, damp and dark with little human traffic. Pests require three things for survival: water, shelter and food. Eliminating any water or moisture is the most important thing you can do to make your basement less hospitable and less inviting to the usual creeping crawlers.

Surprisingly, not all pests in the basement are bad. Some eat other insects and keep your basement from being overpopulated. However, many pests can be problematic and downright destructive. Identification of your basement pests can help you to decide which ones need to be controlled and which can be left alone. Among the most common found in basements include termites, silverfish, centipedes, earwigs and brown recluse spiders.

A termite infestation can do serious structural damage to a home. Subterranean termites typically maintain their residence in the ground. They build mud tubes that connect the nest (moisture) to the food (damp wood). The tubes are about the thickness of a pencil and can be found around exposed walls of your foundation. Swarming termites are winged and swarm each year to build new colonies. Often mistaken for flying ants, their appearance often indicates a nearby nest. Termites usually enter your home through any cracks and crevices.

Silverfish are not fish at all, but are named so because of their fish-like movement, shape and silver-blue coloring. Found in almost every basement, silverfish hide in drains, sinks and dark corners, and are typically nocturnal. Coupled with their ability to go an entire year without food, they are generally hard to eliminate. Silverfish are scavengers that consume anything containing polysaccharides – including books, glue, plasters, photos, sugar, coffee, carpet, clothing and other fibers. They are not disease carriers, and although your basement might be even dirtier without these bugs to clean up dandruff, dirt, dust and the like, they are considered a serious household pest due to their long lifespan and destruction and consumption of your property.

Centipedes, often referred to as “thousand leggers,” can easily give people the creeps because of their numerous legs. They are quick-moving scavengers that like to prowl your basement floor at night. As a benefit though, they eat dead insects, silverfish and even cockroach eggs. And although centipedes do bite and are poisonous, they are typically among the most harmless of pests unless you try to handle them.

Earwigs are probably the most feared bugs in your basement. Most homeowners see their prominent tail pinchers and assume the worst. Yet these bugs are completely harmless. Earwigs do not have enough muscle control for pinching, and mostly use their pinchers for holding food and during mating rituals. Earwigs are nocturnal creatures that like moist cracks and crevices, and feed mostly on plants, flowers and other insects, including silverfish. Earwigs are generally happier living outside, so if found inside, they are most likely trying to escape the cold until they can return outside to warmer weather.

There is one basement crawler that should be feared and treated with extra care – the brown recluse spider. Brown recluse spiders are one of the few truly dangerous and venomous spiders in North America. They travel in groups known as “huntsmen,” and often end up in bed sheets, shoes or clothes left on the floor. And although the brown recluse feeds on insects, both alive and dead, its bite can cause serious tissue damage or in some cases, even death. As insecticides generally are not effective on spiders, sticky glue traps are an effective way to catch these dangerous pests and help you gauge how big your brown recluse population is.

And yet, most spiders are good guys. If your basement did not have its share of spiders, your home would be overrun with all kinds of flying and crawling bugs. Spiders eat these pests by the dozen every day.

So if you find the occasional creeping, crawling pest in your basement, don’t be too alarmed. Most are there to protect you and help to keep your basement clean and bug-free. Knowing what’s crawling across your basement floor can help you determine which ones need some type of control – and which can simply be left alone.