Identify the Pests Attacking Your Garage or Yard

Pests are a common concern of homeowners, and some pests can really cause extensive damage to yard structures like garages, carports, decks, and sheds or yard vegetation if not caught early. Some of these include rodents, ants, beetles, and termites; invasive species can be even harder to eradicate than native ones. Read on to learn more about identifying common garage and yard pests through visual inspection of the critters themselves and the physical damage they leave behind.

Rodents

Rodents are mammals, sometimes nocturnal, that can breed and multiply rapidly; they are often shades of brown, black, and gray. Rodents, like mice and rats, are extremely agile, able to jump, burrow, climb, swim, and even fall dozens of feet without injury. They're able to gain entry into a building through an opening as little as a quarter-inch to a half-inch in size. Incisors grow throughout a rodent's life, and so they must regularly gnaw them down by chewing; they will frequently chew on structural and other materials like wood, plastic, and aluminum. You may find signs of rodents chewing on your garage, shed, or other yard structure, or you may find their pellet-like droppings. In addition to being destructive, they can also be disease carriers. Rodents are widespread across the United States. Mice are rather small, often six inches long or smaller, while rats can be up to 18 inches long. Some states, predominantly those with large wetlands areas, are also affected by the nutria, which is a kind of South American rodent introduced to the U.S. in the late 19th century. Nutrias are large, about two feet long, and usually brown; they can be easily misidentified as beavers. They thrive in areas with lots of water, from ponds and marshes to storm drains. They are more likely to cause damage to land by burrowing rather than structural damage.

Ants

Ants can cause damage to lawns and wooden structures. Most species are pretty small, roughly a half-inch long or smaller, have three-segmented bodies and bent antennae, and live in colonies; there's typically a queen whose job it is to lay eggs. Ants can feed on organic matter like seeds, and their activity in the soil can damage vegetation; ants also feed on or burrow in wood, which can leave it unsound. Carpenter ants are well-known for their destruction of wood due to the nests they build. Argentine ants are an invasive species present in the southern U.S.; they're light brown, and they can bite, too. Fire ants are another invasive species found mostly in the southern U.S., from Texas eastward to North Carolina, and they're found in California, too. They are reddish in color and frequently build mounds in a yard. If disturbed, they can crawl vertically and quickly, and they sting, so it's wise to exercise caution if a fire ant infestation is suspected.

Beetles

There are a number of beetles that can affect home and garden structures. Asian lady beetles, or ladybugs, for example, can infest buildings and leave a terrible-smelling, staining residue behind. This kind of beetle is distinguished from the common red ladybug by its orange back with black dots. While these beetles aren't strictly physically destructive, their sheer numbers can make them a nuisance. Japanese beetles, meanwhile, have metallic greenish/copper-colored backs and are known for the way they devour the leaves and roots of many plants, which can wreak havoc on a yard or garden. Powderpost beetles bore into wood; they're up to about a quarter-inch long and characterized by their cylindrical shape and brown color. This kind of beetle can feed on the wood of homes, garages, and decks. A wood-boring beetle infestation is commonly identified by the holes bored into the wood by the feeding insect as well as the bits of wood dust left behind. Asian longhorned beetles are another invasive species. Their spotted bodies and long antennae make them readily recognizable, and they're known for their love of hardwood trees.

Termites

Termites live in colonies and can cause extensive destruction to wood structures. It can be hard to quickly identify a termite compared with an ant because they can look very similar, but remember, ants have bent antennae, while termite antennae are straight; also, a termite's wings are all usually the same length, and termite bodies aren't clearly segmented like ants' are. Signs of termites include mud tubes or tunnels on exterior walls and wood damage. You may need to actually pry into the wood to see if it has been hollowed out by termite activity. Termites can be found in all of the lower 48 states, with an especially strong presence in southern states from eastern Texas to the Carolinas. There are several different kinds of termites, including drywood, dampwood, and Formosan. This last kind of termite is considered an invasive species, originating in China and now usually found in southeastern states. Formosan termite colonies can be larger and destroy wood at a faster rate than other kinds. Formosan termites are yellow/brown, while other termites are often more brown.