Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Beating beetles

They arrive in early summer, as if drawn by the increase in humidity levels compared to the winter air.  

As a matter of fact, they do thrive in the humid weather because they don't drink water the way we do. They absorb water right out of the air. They're carpet beetles.  Tiny, 1 to 2 millimeters in length, there is one thing that they do really well.  They breed.  

We first noticed them about five years ago or so.  Little critters who seemed to love our dog's liquid (daily) medicine.  They'd crowd around the medicine syringes and suffocate themselves in the thick syrup.  Ughh.  

Thus began the perennial struggle to keep down or eliminate the beetle population.  They seemed to like our food.  They would wiggle their way into boxes of cereal, bags of dog food, and even our spices.  We had to throw out a LOT of stuff.  

One year we were fortunate enough to find their primary food source and remove it - along with hundreds of the little six-legged dots who move surprisingly quickly for the size of them.  We thought we were rid of them for good.  Alas, it was not to be.  Even one beetle left will produce hundreds more.

Most of the time you can't even see their legs or their feet.  They seem to operate on hovercraft principles.  We've seen them crawling on the ceiling, on the counters, on bedroom dressers, and dead inside glasses of water left out overnight and inside clean cups left open-side-up in the cupboards.  That's when we started turning the cups upside-down in the cupboards.

Getting rid of such small beings proves to be one of the hardest things to do as a homeowner, because (as we found out recently) you can't just spray insect repellent because they are hard-shelled and extremely resilient.  It doesn't kill them unless you spray them directly and thoroughly with it. (shudder)

After extensive research, we discovered that the way to get rid of them is to go looking for them - specifically, for their nest - and once that is found, remove it.  This means removing the container you find them breeding, living, crawling about in.  There will be larvae (which are slightly longer and look like maggots - sorry, but they do!) and adults, plus pupa casings.  Then you look for their primary food source - which may be the same as the nest (ew.)  If that's in a bag of dry dog food which is nearly full and you don't want to throw the food out (and yes, dogs can digest them) then take the whole bag, seal it up and put it in the deep-freeze for 2 days.  It will kill them, the eggs, the larvae and the pupae. The cold and the lack of accessible moisture in the air kills them.  The best idea, though, is to take them outside where the food sources are far more abundant - and most important, not in your house. And of course, replace any contaminated food with fresh, after thoroughly cleaning and sterilizing the containers with boiling water.

Eradicating the beetles completely requires that you must go looking for any secondary food sources or 'stashes' and do the same thing - prevention is important. Remove the spices from the spice drawer or rack, wipe it clean, check the spices to make sure there aren't any stowaways. Store cups and glasses upside down in the cupboards, keep flour in tupperware-style sealed containers, put away any unused food in the fridge or freezer: these things almost go without saying.  (But in a houseful of teenagers, we had to be told anyway.)  If ANY food residue is left out - before long the infestation will have taken over again.

As I was thinking about this beetle problem this morning, it dawned on me that self-destructive habits and tendencies are like the carpet beetles - insidious, if unchecked spreading everywhere, and extremely hard to eradicate, requiring a lot of soul-searching, rooting out of old stashes and associated habits and thoughts that feed them, and finally disposing of every trace of them, over and over again, until they're gone.  Trying to do that on our own is absolutely impossible because just when you think you have one thing licked, a hundred more things come in and take their place.  It's daunting!  It's ... exhausting.

Truly, as the Big Book (Alcoholics Anonymous) says, "without help it is too much for us.... but there is one who has all power; that one is God; may you find Him now.  Half-measures availed us nothing.  We stood at the turning-point.  We asked his protection and care with complete abandon."  

It's the only way to beat the beetles.

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