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October 21. 2012 1:04AM

Big business in battling little critters


Jesse Fraser of Critter Control seals a hole for an air conditioner line at a condominium in Bedford on Friday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

New Hampshire residents are reporting more hairy little house guests than usual this year. and pest-control businesses are seeing dollar signs.

For exterminators, mice equal money, and the fall of 2012 already is providing exterminators with a cash crop of critters.

“We're getting 30 to 40 calls a day for mice in homes,” said Luke Szufat of Colonial Pest Control Inc., which covers cities and towns from the southern part of the state to as far north as Belknap County. “We always start to get more calls around this time of year, when the nights get colder and the critters start to head inside, but there's a definite uptick this year. Our guys are flat out.”

“We're booking solid two weeks out at this point,” said Jesse Fraser, owner of Critter Control in Merrimack. “Last week we had 68 calls for mice-control visits. This same week last year we had 40. I'd say we're looking at a 25 percent or more increase in calls this season.”

Both men feel the mild winter and wet spring the region experienced are the main factors behind the rise in rodents.

Mice may breed year-round, but when living outdoors, they breed mostly in spring and fall. A female may have five to 10 litters per year.

Many mice die during winter months, as outdoor foods become hard to find. Breeding also slows as the temperature drops. But a mild winter, like the one New Hampshire experienced less than a year ago, means fewer mice die of natural causes, so more are found in the spring. The rainy spring also led to plentiful crops of acorns and beechnuts, which meant mice, squirrels and other rodents didn't have to go very far to find food.

Less time spent foraging allows for more breeding, said Fraser, and the result is a growing population of pests.

“There wasn't a lot of snow for them to deal with, and it didn't really get all that cold,” Fraser said. “There's more (mice) around right now, and they are starting to head inside. Honestly, even this year is later than usual. We usually have a frost in September, and several cold nights by now. That hasn't happened.”

“When we did have frosts a week ago. the phones were ringing the next day,” said Szufat. “The cold weather drove (the mice) inside. People start hearing things moving around in the attic or the walls, and we start booking them.”

Once inside a home, mice begin to nest. Nests are usually fashioned from shredded materials such as paper or burlap, and generally take the shape of a ball of loosely woven material, typically 4 to 6 inches in diameter, according to Fraser.

Mice can carry diseases. The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control say humans can contract hantavirus, which can be fatal, after coming into contact with mouse droppings. Mice also can transport ticks, which can jump to a human host.

Usually, the first sign of a serious rodent problem is when a homeowner notices droppings on a kitchen counter or in kitchen drawers and cabinets. But this year, homeowners report the critters are acting more like men than mice.

“It was right there, on the rug, in the open looking at me,” said Sandra Roberts of Candia, during a recent shopping excursion for mousetraps at Aubin Hardware in Manchester. “It didn't try to hide. I had to shush it away — so brazen.”

“They usually run along the base of walls or stick to the dark corners,” said Szufat. “But this year, for whatever reason, we're getting calls from people saying they are right there in the open. I don't understand why, but they seem bolder. They are not skittish this year.”

“People are seeing the mice more; it's not just a few droppings here or there,” said Larry Johnson, owner of Absolute Pest Control in Derry. He estimates his technicianss are making 40 percent more mouse calls this fall than last.

Although pest control providers are reporting a spike in business, local hardware stores aren't quite ready to credit sales of traps and poisons to a sudden surge in the mice or squirrel population.

“We always sell those items this time of year,” said Paul Aubin, owner of Aubin Hardware in Manchester. “The weather turns colder, and the animals head inside. We are selling them. If it stays steady for a while, I might say there's more mice, but right now it's too early to tell.”

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Paul Feely may be reached at pfeely@unionleader.com.


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