How to know when you have pests and what you should do

Exterminator Rick Standish
Exterminator Rick Standish, owner of Bryn Mawr-based Professional Pest Control Company, took over the company from his father, John Standish. Photo by Becca Most

Rick Standish, the owner of Bryn Mawr-based Professional Pest Control, has seen his fair share of infestations over the past 34 years. 

He once spent more than two weeks trying to catch a single rat that terrorized a family, ate their garbage and ran around their home. Despite hiding traps under debris and planting bait, the rat eluded capture every time, until one day Standish was in the house when he saw it.

“I came in and saw him run from the living room and hide behind a radiator … and I sure wasn’t going to let him get by me that time,” he said. 

After setting up snap traps around the heater and spraying the rodent with an oil-based insecticide, he was finally able to grab the rat when it got irritated and tried to run away.

“I even took a picture with him because I was pretty darn happy to finally get him,” he said. It’s one of the stories that he can never forget.

As the weather gets warmer, insects and animals that have remained relatively dormant over the winter will soon be coming out of the woodwork … and possibly into your home. 

With more of them entering houses to have babies in the spring, it’s important for homeowners to keep an eye out for signs that they may have a critter afoot. Some of the most common pests Minneapolis exterminators see are mice, ants and raccoons. 

Standish and other local exterminators offered tips for identifying and ridding your house of varment while avoiding getting scammed.

Some of Standish’s staples
Some of Standish’s staples are rodenticide, cement, a couple of tubes of caulk, foam sealant and insecticide (which he mixes with water and disperses in a metal tank). Submitted photo

What to look for

If you don’t see a roach dashing across the floor or a squirrel sitting on your counter, the indication you have pests is mostly in what they leave behind. 

For roaches, it could be droppings that look like coffee grounds on your wall or floor. For bedbugs, it could be a dark peppered pattern under your mattress. For mice, it could be chew marks on food in your pantry.

Mice usually stay out of populated areas and spend most of their time hiding in places homeowners can’t see, said Standish said. This could be in the little gap under the pipe where the dishwasher line runs, in kitchen drawers and cupboards or under an unfinished shelf in the basement.

If you can’t see the critter or evidence that it’s been there, another sign is sound. 

“People say, ‘In the middle of the night, we hear this scratching in the wall or ceiling,’” Standish said. “That would tell you you have mice.”

For bats, you would hear a characteristic squeaking or chirping sound, usually accompanied by scratching or fluttering, said Sean Francis, of Francis Animal and Pest Control in Faribault. Bats like to get into attics, and if they are there long enough, you can sometimes smell ammonia from their droppings — especially when it’s humid.

Standish holds the rat
Standish holds the rat it took him more than two weeks to catch. Submitted photo

What you can do

Usually, if you have mice, it’s not enough to set out traps around your house (though, if you do, make sure to put them in areas where mice frequent — behind the sink, in cabinets or under the stove). Many mice get into the house through small openings in your home’s foundation, which can be along an air-conditioning line or vent or underneath a porch or deck. 

Mouse traps, though easy to set, don’t necessarily get to the root of the problem. And when it comes to closing mouse entry points, it’s not always simple.

Most exterminators examine the perimeter of the house and close holes by hand with a cement mixture, which can be tricky to do yourself, especially if a gap under a porch is only a couple of inches wide. 

“I mean, I get on my belly, and as tight as it is, if I can fit, I’ll go,” Standish said. 

If you can’t fit, he recommends prying up the deck boards to get a closer look at your home’s foundation.

Homeowners can also trim back tree branches from their roofs, which can stop squirrels and racoons from getting in, and they can look for areas on their house with rotted wood, which can attract insects, Francis said.

Another problem homeowners face is getting unwanted visitors that come in through their cat doors, he said.

“People get a racoon in the house or a skunk in the house,” Francis said. He recommends closing the door at night.

Exterminator Rick Standish
Exterminator Rick Standish

Exterminator red flags

Standish said you should look to hire exterminators who offer guarantees. 

A sign of a bad exterminator is if they try and get you to sign on a long-term contract, said Dennis Siebert, owner of Arrow Pest Control in Lowry Hill East. Usually exterminators who come back regularly every couple months, especially for something like mice, are not getting to the root of the problem, he said. 

“If they won’t warranty it, that’s another sign,” said Francis. “If they say, ‘I need half down and half at the end of the job,’ that’s pretty common. But if they require you to pay all upfront, that’s when you should watch out.”

Another thing to look out for is if exterminators ask you to pay in cash and don’t charge you for sales tax or give you a receipt, he said. 

“There’s a couple companies that have been caught for not paying taxes,” he said. “I know of a couple right now that are not in business anymore because of it.”


Exterminator horror stories

  • Dennis Siebert, owner of Arrow Pest Control in Lowry Hill East, once caught 253 mice in a single house. He caught 70 of them, he said, just while setting up the traps in the house.  
  • Sean Francis, of Francis Animal and Pest Control, once entered a home with such bad bedbugs that the floor around the mattress looked like a grease stain. He said he’s also gone to houses with roaches so bad they are falling off the cupboards and ceilings onto people’s heads. 
  • Rick Standish took over Bryn Mawr-based Professional Pest Control from his father, John. He remembers hearing a story about how his dad visited a house where mice had colonized the curtains and burrowed into the couch cushions. He said his father even saw some mice peek their heads out of holes in the couch when he walked through the door.