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Termites Likely Ate Cardboard Boxes, Made Mess

By Dick Fagerlund
For the Journal
    Q: We went into the cabinet in our carport where we keep our Christmas ornaments, only to discover that the cardboard on many of the boxes appeared to have been consumed by something during the past year. It avoided the parts of the box that had strapping tape on them and ate only the cardboard.
    Our holiday table runner, which had been in storage in one of the damaged boxes, was covered with what appeared to be the creature's waste products— kind of a gritty, brownish powder that was very difficult to remove. We are thinking maybe some kind of cardboard-eating organism. Any ideas?— M.S., Albuquerque
    A: There are several bugs that eat cardboard. However, the part about the gritty substance that is hard to remove makes me believe it is termites. Cockroaches, crickets and silverfish also eat cardboard, but they would not leave the sandy residue. You may want to get your home inspected.
    Q: We received a postcard from a termite company (addressed to "Resident"), telling us that termites had been found in our area. There is also a phone number to call for an inspection.
    Do you know if this is a scam? We've lived in this house for 10 years, and an inspection should have been done before we moved in.— J.S., Bosque Farms
    A: It is just a sales gimmick. A lot of companies use this line in the slow winter season to generate sales. Certainly there are termites in your area; they are ubiquitous throughout the state. If you haven't had an inspection in 10 years, you should probably get one— from the company of your choice.
    Q: We live in Rio Rancho, and my daughter swears she found a spider that was 2.5 inches in diameter— in the body alone— in her bedroom laundry basket. She panicked and ran out of her room. We took her basket outside and shook the clothing and never found it. I am beside myself as to what we could possibly have in our home that is that large. What's your best guess?— D.R., Rio Rancho
    A: It was probably a burrowing wolf spider. They are large, black and look intimidating, although they are harmless. They are common on the West Mesa, including Rio Rancho. You can sweep them up on a dust pan and put them outside, or place a glass over them, slide a stiff piece of paper under the glass and carry them outside.
    Q: I understood that you do not advise spraying inside a home. A local pest control company placed traps in our home. I went to a Web site you recommended that sells Niban Bait in granule form. Are the Niban granules preferable to the sticky traps?— P.0., Albuquerque
    A: I would prefer using baits, such as Niban, inside and letting them spray outside, around the doors, windows and other places bugs can enter your home. You can get the Niban and do it yourself. It is available online at www.pestcontrolsupplies.com, which is a local company.
    Q: I found a praying mantis in the planter in front of the service station where I work. How do I take care of it in the winter?— J.P.S., Los Ranchos
    A: You can put it in a terrarium with a few sticks to climb on and a small container with a water-soaked sponge for water. Then put in a dozen or more crickets from your local pet shop, along with some oatmeal for the crickets. The crickets will eat and breed and the mantid will have a steady supply of food and water until the weather warms up and it can be released outdoors.
    Q: In the last few months, my house has become infested with gnats. I am swatting five to six a day. We compost our garbage and I suspected that the gnats might be hatching in the garbage during the few hours it is in the house before I take it out to bury it. But friends have told me that gnats hatch in house plants. What's the truth and how do I get rid of them?— D.M., Alto, N.M.
    A: Either scenario could be true. There are about a half dozen gnats that will infest houses, and they breed in different areas, including compost (fruit flies, hump-backed flies) and house plants (fungus gnats). There are also some flies that breed in drains (hump-backed flies and moth flies). You need to get them identified and then I can recommend a treatment. If you want, put some in alcohol and mail them to me and I will identify them for you.
Dick Fagerlund, is a board certified entomologist. Send Bugman questions via e-mail to fagerlun@unm.edu, or mail to P.O. Box 1173, Corrales, NM 87048. He also can be reached by phone at 553-6660, or his Web site at www.askthebugman.com.