Action Threshold: When is enough, enough?

After doing a quick Google search, I found that there exists a surprising amount of people who have accidentally eaten maggots in their food (mostly dry cereals). Most of them were accompanied by questions like “Am I going to die?” “What should I do now?” or “Are maggots bad for you?” As you can probably imagine, they were looking for the next step; they weren’t going to take these maggots lying down (sitting at a breakfast nook with milk and a spoon, maybe, but not lying down). Maggots infesting your cereal boxes seem like a fairly cut and dry case where you want someone to come in with pest control guns blazing, but it isn’t always as easy to determine when you need a home pest control service.

The EPA defines Action Threshold as, “a point at which pest populations or environmental conditions indicate that pest control action must be taken.” This means you need to decide where, between 1 little black ant in the past year and 2,000 ants every day, you draw the line and call in the cavalry. Everyone is going to land in a different place in the action threshold spectrum, however, regardless of which side of you fall on, there are a few things you can do to help push that action threshold back a little further. There are three key areas which will slow the advance of the seemingly unavoidable encroachment of your general household pests (and it won’t hurt the resale value of your home, either). These three areas are sanitation, exclusion and harborage.


Pests, like people, come inside for three reasons: food, water and shelter. I’ll talk about shelter in the next two sections, but food and water are going to be vital. Let’s start with the obvious. If you spill something (food, drink water etc) it needs to be cleaned up immediately. Worker ants are ever vigiliant (some literally don’t sleep; they pass out for 4-6 seconds every few minutes and then get back to work–if only more American’s had that work ethic!) and they’ll find the goods. Even if it’s a little mess, it’s best to clean it up. Some roaches can live for long periods of time on the oils from a fingerprint! Don’t forget about place like under the sink and behind the fridge/stove; these places can quickly accumulate a large amount of spills if neglected.


After you’ve cleaned up your act (pun intended) you may think you’re job is done–it’s not. There are some pests who like to come inside your home because of the shelter it offers. No amount of cleanliness can sway a flooded millipede from storming your house at the next downpour. The best way to keep all pests from Goldilocksing your home is to make sure there are no entry points for them. This is going to be more difficult than it my seem at first. Little critters can sneak through holes as small as 1/64″. The most common place for pests to come in your house: the front and back doors–oops. Check your weather stripping. If you can see any light coming in through the door, you better believe a pest can get through it. A couple of other spots to check: areas the plumbing comes into the house and window seals. If you have a crawlspace, it’s helpful to do a routine check of the screens as well.


The last preventive measure to keep pests out is harborage control. What this means is you keep anything that pests might find as a shelter from touching your house (ideally a 12″-18″ gap). Things like tree branches or bushes touching the side of the home are like super highways for pests. Pests live in areas like mulch beds, holly bushes and large, old trees. When they go searching for food and water, the first place they check is the adjacent areas to their homes. That means trailing along branches that lead to your siding and roof. Trimming greenery and removing debris from the structure of the home will let the pests know that you do not want them joy riding from their home to yours next Sunday afternoon.

This list may look like a lot of work. My suggestion, pick whichever one is easiest and conquer it. You’ll notice an immediate reduction in pests. Get all three done and you’ll wonder where all the pests went. Sometimes, however, your pest problems may precede your preventive measures. In that case, you’ve just crossed the action threshold line.

Categories: Adventures in Entomology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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