Holiday hitchhikers: Keeping pests out of homes this season

Tips to avoid aphids, bed bugs and ants


The holiday season, a time for family, fun and festivities, is here. If you’re not careful, unwanted hitchhikers—pests—may be celebrating the holidays alongside you and your family. Orkin Pest Control has tips for keeping these pests out.

With the introduction of fresh-cut trees, consistent holiday travel and an overflow of baked goods in the kitchen, aphids, bed bugs and ants are also seeking their way indoors to celebrate the season.

“During the holiday season, we access areas that we do not see very often during the rest of the year, such as attics and basements, to bring out decorations, which can introduce pests living there to the rest of the home,” said Glen Ramsey, an Orkin entomologist. “Some of the food and decorations placed out during holidays can also attract unwanted pests.”

What can you do to prevent aphids, bed bugs and ants from ruining your holiday cheer? Awareness and vigilance are key.

Aphids: A cautionary tale

Many people choose to celebrate the holidays with live trees, but unfortunately, real Christmas trees may carry pests—such as aphids—indoors.

What is an aphid? It is a soft-bodied insect, about the size of an ant, that uses its piercing, sucking mouthparts to feed on plant sap. Aphids are common on conifers.

“While it is unlikely aphids cause any damage to the home or residents, they are a nuisance and may exude a sticky honeydew-like substance,” said Ramsey.

Although many will stay on the tree, aphids are known to become active after exposure to warm temperatures indoors. Others are attracted to light sources, including windows. Aphids can reproduce quickly. In fact, a tree could be infested with hundreds or even thousands of the pests. A key sign of infestation includes seeing dead aphids underneath the tree.

Bed bugs – The unwanted holiday travel guest

Bed bugs, which are typically 4-5 mm in length and red to dark brown in color, are great hitchhikers and can travel from place to place with ease, including luggage, purses and other belongings.

“Bed bugs are not a sign of uncleanliness,” said Ramsey. “They only need blood to survive and can be found anywhere from single-family homes, apartments and hotels, to public places such movie theaters, public transit, libraries and offices.”

With the hustle and bustle of holiday travel, turnover rates increase, along with the likelihood of a bed bug introduction in hotels and homes across the country. Keep this in mind when you’re on the road visiting loved ones. Also, think twice before you throw your jacket on a pile of others at a holiday party, as you never know where those jackets have traveled.

Ants moving in for the holidays

Ants often move inside looking for the same things that humans do—favorable temperatures, food, shelter and a permanent place to call home.

Observing swarmers during the cold weather months may indicate that an ant colony exists somewhere inside the home. In this scenario, ants are usually located somewhere in an inner house wall, in door and window frames, or in hidden places.

Furthermore, ants are omnivores and may be attracted to the interior of a home by substances that are edible and provide a good energy source, including the sweet baked goods that frequently accompany the holiday season.

The good news, though, is all these threats are manageable and preventable. To help people avoid the risks associated with ants, aphids and bed bugs, Orkin recommends the following tips:

  • Mechanical tree shakers are available at some retail lots and are useful in removing some insects from the trees. If a mechanical tree shaker is unavailable, vigorously shaking the tree before bringing it into a home will help remove unwanted pests.
  • Routinely inspect any trees or plants brought indoors, all the way down to the trunk or stem.
  • Before bringing potted plants and other vegetation inside from cold temperatures, check the soil for ants.
  • Store sweets and other food in sealed containers and clean up any crumbs on counters.
  • Decrease clutter around your home to make it easier to spot bed bugs on your own.
  • When traveling, elevate your luggage on a rack away from the bed and the wall to avoid bed bugs. While repacking to return home, examine your luggage very carefully.

Using the tips above, homes across the nation can be better equipped to keep pests out this holiday season. To effectively control pest introductions, contact a trained pest professional who can assess your situation, implement a sound solution that is designed specifically for your home and monitor for improvements over time.