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 adorning homes, often in the form of bats, spiders and their webs.
“A lot of pest-related Halloween themes have to do with the historic role they have played in spreading plagues,” said Leonard Douglen, the Executive director of the New York Pest Management Association. “The most famous combination was 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 and flies in the ‘Amityville Horror’ film were a signal of something evil about to happen.”
“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.”
The nation’s bat population has been suffering from a fungus named for the white fuzz that occurs on bat’s noses. It was initially discovered in upstate New York in 2006.
It is known to have infected eleven species and estimated to have killed more than six million bats in the 23 states to which it has spread. The fungus wakes hibernating bats from their winter hibernation causing them to starve or become dehydrated before spring arrives.
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 painful bites are known to cause allergic reactions, and can even 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.”
“There are two problems with rodents. One 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.
“Halloween is one of the nation’s favorite holidays,” said Douglen, “and the fact that it includes notice of our insect and rodent pest populations reflect the fears and dangers with which we associate them.”
The New York Pest Management Association maintains an Internet site at www.njnewyorkpma.com.