Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Weapons of Mouse Destruction: How to Eliminate Relentless Rodents

This article appeared in Popular Mechanics authored by Adam Hadhazy

There are plenty more ways beyond the traditional mousetrap to get the rodents infesting your house. We survey the best ways homeowners and exterminators can solve a mouse problem. By Adam Hadhazy Popular Mechanics

The Mouse: It's a pest that has been invading human living spaces ever since we holed up in caves. The hardy creatures require little food and virtually no water, allowing them to thrive in modern buildings, behind our walls and under our floors.

Although cute and squeaky in the wild, mice are a dangerous nuisance in the home. The critters chew up insulation and gnaw through electrical wiring, creating a fire hazard. Mice can contaminate food with their feces. They carry fleas and diseases. Many people are allergic to the animal's urine. To top it off, the rodents breed prolifically; in several weeks a few mice can become a dozen.

Mouse intrusions happen year-round, but tend to spike in many parts of the country in the summer months and late fall, according to Ralph H. Maestre, technical director at Magic Pest Management based in Flushing, New York. Exterminators have developed a full arsenal of methods to kill, capture and control the millions of rodents, mostly mice, who aim to set up shop in our homes and businesses, from the simple and iconic mousetrap to far more elaborate attacks. Here's a look at the weapons of mouse destruction.

Kill Zones: Front-line Traps: The traditional way to fight mouse infestation is with traps. Inquisitive mice can't help but check them out, especially if there's bait. "Mice are very curious about the new things in their environment," says Jim Fredericks, director of technical services for the National Pest Management Association.

Traps come in three basic varieties. First, classic snap traps, whose invention dates back to 1894. "To this day, the original old-fashioned snap trap is one of the most effective traps we have," Fredericks says. While going for the bait in these traps, the mouse steps on a trip and, SNAP!, a spring-loaded bar slams down with backbreaking force.

A second class, glue or sticky traps, uses strong adhesives to ensnare mice. (However, glue traps have raised the hackles of some animal-rights proponents, as stuck mice will sometimes chew through their limbs or rip themselves apart trying to break free.)

A third and less gruesome option is multiple-catch or live traps. Through mechanical means-spring-loaded doors, flippers, teeter-totter-like levers and the like-the traps capture several mice in a storage area. The spared vermin can then be deposited far from the dwelling to keep them from coming back.

As for the choice of bait, skip the traditional cheddar cheese. "Mice really like seeds, chocolate, peanut butter and bacon," says Greg Baumann, Orkin technical services director

Mousetraps 2.0: Unconventional Killing Machines"Building a better mousetrap" isn't just an adage. Exterminator pros are always trying to come up with better ways to catch rodents.

The Rat Zapper by AgriZap uses ordinary food bait to lure a mouse or rat, just like a traditional mousetrap does. But then the device zaps the rodent to kingdom come, courtesy of four D batteries. Victor makes various electronic mouse traps as well, including one that can catch and fry 10 mice.

Another alternative trap is the NOOSKI, made in New Zealand. As a mouse enters the trap, it must stick its head through a rubber ring-which instantly contracts and suffocates the little bugger.

Perhaps the most advanced mousetrap around is the RADAR (Rodent Activated Detection And Riddance) device by U.K. company Rentokil Pest Control, geared for commercial use. When a mouse scampers into RADAR's tunnel and crosses two consecutive infrared beams, the trap seals shut and floods the chamber with a deadly dose of carbon dioxide. As a courtesy, RADAR notifies its owner via text message when the deed is done.

Poisons: Gobbling Down Some Sweet Death If traps don't take care of your mouse problem, maybe it's time to switch to chemical warfare. Poisonous baits sold in pellet form, or in newer putty formulations, turn the natural tendency of mice to gnaw and nibble against them.

So-called rodenticides come in a number of varieties, but the most common are anticoagulants. These compounds cause internal hemorrhaging, ending a mouse's life in a few days. If you choose this route to kill mice, however, keep a supply of vitamin K1 around: It's an antidote to the anticoagulants that you can give to cats and dogs if they eat the poison, Fredericks says.

Other creative chemistries for dispatching mice include metal phosphide-laced baits, he says. When zinc phosphide reacts with the acid in a rodent's stomach, highly toxic phosphine gas forms. Vitamin D is another killing agent. The vitamin makes mice absorb too much calcium from their food, while leaching the mineral from their bones. The resulting hypercalcemia (excessive levels of calcium in the blood) damages the heart, kidneys and other organs.

Fredericks points out that all pesticides, including rodenticides, must be approved by the EPA and are regulated by state agencies. In other words, custom cocktails are not available. "Pros definitely don't make their own secret recipe," he says.

Tracking Tech: Seek and Destroy Mice are frustratingly elusive, nibbling on food left out at night and vanishing during the day. But, unbeknownst to the rodents, they leave signs that reveal their movements. Those signs just happen to be in UV. Mouse urine fluoresces in UV light, so shining a black light around can show where the rodents pee. "The use of black lights is really a great inspection tool," Fredericks says, though it takes a trained eye to discern genuinely glowing mouse urine from splashes of, say, floor-scrubbing detergent.

Simply leaving traps wherever you find mouse droppings might not be the best approach, though, says Douglas Stern, managing partner at New Jersey-based Stern Environmental Group. His company developed a fluorescent powder that could help you track mice back to their nests. "When the mice walk on the powder, they get it on their feet and it leaves a footprint," Stern says. To get the powder onto the mice, load it into a box with food or dust it onto cotton balls, which the mice nab as nesting material. Then follow the footprints, which appear under UV, to find where the mice have set up shop. This lets you set up traps there, or seal off an outside entry point if mice are entering into the house from outdoors.

The so-called Track & Trap system has yet to become widespread, but Stern envisions the product having key niche applications. 'I think it's going to be very popular in instances where you have mice running around and no one knows where they're coming from, he tells PM. Meanwhile, major manufacturer Bell Labs has also started selling rodenticide food pellets doped with chemicals to make mouse feces glow green.

Fight Animals With Animals Release the hounds! Exterminators today are taking a cue from law enforcement and turning to dogs' super sensitive noses for smelling bed bugs, ants and termites. Dogs are just beginning to enter the field of mouse control, Fredericks says, but canines could potentially sniff out rodent headquarters.

Cats, of course, are the traditional nemesis of mice. "I think there's probably a lot of farmers that would swear their barn cats keep the mice out," Fredericks says. But the idea of a house cat attacking your mouse problem is probably more cartoon fodder than reality. A standard domesticated cat that lives in a house is probably not really hungry enough to be interested in killing mice," he says. In fact, Baumann describes a case where mice stole cat food right out of the dish and hoarded it under the stove without the pet so much as raising a paw.

Finally, for those homeowners who aren't like Indiana Jones, snakes are always a fine predatory option. Case in point: Corn snakes, a popular, nonvenomous pet which winds around prey constrictor-style, love dining on mice.

Ultimately, there's no guarantee that a barrage of traps, poisons or high-tech repellents will solve a mouse problem, especially if mice find your home to be a sanctuary. The best approach, then, is one of the simplest: Make your home inhospitable to rodents. "Keep in mind, mice are pretty much like us. They need food, water and a place to live," Baumann says. Eliminate those resources by keeping the house clean and sealed off, and store food in secure containers.

Repellents and Fortifications: Defense is the Best Offense Preventing rodents from infiltrating the home in the first place has become big business. A number of rodent-repelling odorants are sold at hardware and home stores, including Critter Out spray, Fresh Cab Scent Pouches and Shake Away Rodent Repellent Granules that claim to smell like predators, banking on fear to keep mice away. Some people swear by strong scents, such as pine or cayenne peppers, or even dryer sheets. But experts say the effectiveness is questionable.

On the high-tech side, several companies offer ultrasonic repellers that supposedly keep mice at bay with sound waves. These devices send out sound waves above 20 kilohertz, the typical human high-end threshold for hearing, and some modulate between 32 and 64 kHz so undesirable animals cannot adapt. But Orkin's Baumann and others are skeptical. "My favorite is the fact when [manufacturers] say these things will repel insects, rodents, birds-only the bad stuff-but if you have a bird or a dog, it won't be affected," Baumann says. "There might be some promise with these products coming out in the near future, but I've not seen any scientific data to suggest that they actually work."

Simply shoring up a home might be the best way to thwart rodent intruders. Do a residence self-inspection by checking the foundation for holes, and spaces under doors. "If you walk around your house and see any hole that a pencil can fit though, a mouse can fit through," Baumann says. Seal up those holes with caulk, weatherstripping or steel wool, which mice can't chew through. Follow up with regular patrols of your property.