Coronavirus

Your neighbors fled the city. They left you their water bugs

The pandemic has disrupted how we deal with pests. Homebound New Yorkers are generating more garbage, attracting rats looking for food now that restaurants have shuttered.

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2020
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As if you didn’t have enough to worry about, New Yorkers now have a looming pest problem—and that includes water bugs coming from the vacated apartment next door and rats missing their usual catered meal.

You can relax a little about your neighbor’s water bugs, they’re probably not inside your apartment—yet. But just wait.

American roaches, aka water bugs, are more active now because spring rainstorms can flood sewers, allowing them to enter buildings via vents, sump pumps, and other access points, according to Gil Bloom, an entomologist and president of Standard Pest Management. From there, they can take a trip up a pipe to enter an apartment.

Normally the water that collects in the bend of the pipe, the trap, prevents bugs from traveling upwards. But dry weather and lack of use turns pipes into a two-lane highway for water bugs.

In one luxury building in NYC—which emptied out when residents fled the pandemic for their second homes—the problem is being dealt with by having a staff member turn on the taps once a week in empty apartments, Bloom says.

It's not just an issue for the vacant apartments. Eventually, Bloom says, it becomes your problem when the bugs travel between apartments—and breed, of course.

Glue traps can help you monitor the situation, so can sealing off unused drains with simple duct tape, he suggests.


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Another pest disruption caused by the pandemic: Shuttered restaurants in NYC mean rodents have lost their catered curbside buffets. As a result, rats are roaming further to find food—and buildings need to step up their disposal routine to avoid attracting new, unwanted residents. (City sanitation workers picked up more household trash last month as people began to stay home, except for Manhattan, where many people have fled, according to an analysis by The City.)

“New Yorkers are lackadaisical when it comes to trash disposal,” Bloom says. For proof, see any trash room, he says, where you’ll find garbage bags on the floor, outside the trash chute. (Why? Most people don’t use garbage bags small enough to fit inside garbage chutes, which were designed to fit the trash needs of another era, he explains.)

In addition, he points out, recycling laws were made without consideration for how and where buildings would store recyclables, which are often not washed out properly.

“A mouse only needs three grams of food a day to survive,” Bloom says. “It’s more important than ever that buildings stay on top of their trash, now that rodents have lost half their meals from the outside.”

Bloom recommends buildings be proactive, practice basic sanitation, and avoid allowing trash to accumulate. (He mentioned something called “trash juice” but this writer had to mute the call briefly to avoid gagging, so that’s all we can tell you about that.)

He did have one piece of good news: You can solve most pantry pest problems yourself—you don’t need professional services for those. You can even send his company pictures of the pests and they will send you some information on how to deal with them, but you must take very clear photos against a light background. (Bloom can’t help you with what he can’t see.) And stick a dime next to the pest in just one shot, so he can figure out how big it is.

“Once a problem is beyond your apartment, it’s time for professional help. If you live on the sixth floor and you have mice, they are coming from the basement, and you need a building-wide solution,” Bloom says.

Looking ahead—there’s more troubling news. Soon we’ll be in mosquito season, and with the city making budget cuts because of a drop in revenue caused by the pandemic, Bloom says a lack of mosquito spraying could be a big issue.

“Pests really don’t care what’s going on. Pests are survivors,” he says.