Halloween’s Favorite Scary Creatures

STATE — Forget ghosts and goblins, they’re scary, but as Halloween has become increasingly macabre over the years, decorations featuring insect and rodent pests can be found adoring homes, often in the form of bats, spiders and their webs. Are giant bed bugs the next Halloween fixture?

“A lot of pest-related Halloween items have to do with the historic role they have played in spreading plagues,” said Leonard Douglen, the executive director of the New Jersey Pest Management Association. “The most famous combination were the fleas and rats that spread the bubonic plague that was also known as the Black Death. It killed a quarter of Europe’s population in the 14th century.”

“With the exception of rabid bats, the bat population gets a bum rap,” said Douglen. “They play an important role in keeping the insect population in check, but they are famously associated with castles, vampires, and dark caves.”

Douglen notes that bats are protected by law in most states. As a result, if homeowners discover that bats have taken up residence in their homes, they must call on the services of pest management professionals. “This is also for their protection because bat droppings can cause histoplasmosis, a lung infection.”

“There are two pests that have always cause fear,” said Douglen, “and they are spiders and rats. There’s even a term, arachnophobia, for the fear of spiders. Two species of spider in particular pose a threat to humans, the brown recluse and the black widow. They will bite humans when disturbed and the bites are painful, are known to cause allergic reactions, and can ever be fatal for small children.”

“Rats, of course, have been reviled throughout history,” said Douglen. “In fact, the pest control profession got its beginning when eliminating a rat or mouse infestation meant hiring rat catchers. Early British royalty would appoint an official rat catcher to keep their castles rodent-free. In modern times, everyone can call pest management professionals.”

“The problem with rodents is the way they contaminate food and spread disease,” said Douglen. “They also do a great deal of property damage. Wherever you find large concentrations of humans, you will find rodents,” adding that the same is true for cockroaches.

“An old bug species has made a dramatic comeback,” said Douglen. “Bed bugs that had been virtually eliminated by DDT after World War II are back and this time, due to the failure of the EPA to register pesticides to deal with the species, they are everywhere. Pest management professionals are using alternative means to get rid of them.”

“With kids dressing up as pirates and princesses,” said Douglen, “I’m still waiting for some of them to dress up as a pest control guy or gal!”

The New Jersey Pest Management Association was founded in 1941 and is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. It maintains an Internet site at www.njpestcontrol.com.

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