Colorful, amber-hued leaves crunching underfoot is one of the best hallmarks of fall. Most of us likely have fond childhood memories of diving into large, exploding piles of leaves. Today, as adults, we have to deal with the reality of fall maintenance and the chore of raking leaves into said piles. Part of that reality is the litany of crawling, biting, and all-around troublesome pests that can come to call these mounds of coniferous collections home.
This article will cover some of the most common pests you can find inside fall leaves, including the piles in your yard and the ones burrowing in your gutters.
Ants are some of the most common pests in your yard and garden, and they love to take advantage of leaf piles. Ants are a type of insect that undergoes a process called overwintering to wait out the winter months. While different species of ants use various techniques to overwinter, they all seek sources of warmth and food before the season begins. Piles of leaves provide both of these, as they trap and hold in heat while providing plentiful amounts of organic matter for ants to store in their colonies.
Beetles, similarly to ants, have many clever ways to survive the harsh winter temperatures. Some species burrow deep beneath the ground, while others migrate, and some even produce proteins in their blood that act like antifreeze.
One commonality among these insects is that they will seek out warm, damp, and dark locations in the seasons leading up to winter.
These preferences make piles of leaves, and your gutters, ideal hiding places for these harmless bugs.
While most beetles don’t pose a threat to humans, some can be nuisances that love to migrate into your home and set up shop.
When raking, cleaning gutters, or working outside in the fall, always check your clothing, shoes, and equipment for bugs that have hitched a ride. Some of the most common beetles that try to get in during the fall are stink bugs, lady beetles, boxelder bugs, and Japanese beetles.
Fall leaves, be it in piles or scattered along the ground, are an irresistible habitat for centipedes. Centipedes prefer dark, wet environments close to the ground filled with smaller insects they can hunt. Unfortunately for homeowners, leaves check each of these boxes. Since leaf piles host multitudes of insects and provide complex and efficient cover, they’re a veritable buffet for predatory pests like centipedes.
Centipedes can pack a painful sting, which can cause a mild allergic reaction, but otherwise, these bugs are completely harmless. Centipedes, like most predatory insects, are valuable members of your local ecosystem and hunt more problematic nuisance pests. Centipedes love to eat silverfish, various nymphs, moths in their larval stage, flies, termites, and cockroaches, so it’s best to avoid killing them.
There are many misconceptions about earwigs. They don’t tunnel through your ear canals, aren’t venomous, and aren’t particularly aggressive. However, one thing that is true about these intimidating insects is that they love dark, damp spaces.
Earwigs are omnivorous, consuming decaying plant tissue and small insects alike.
As such, leaves are one of their favorite hiding spots. If you come across earwigs, remember that while they look nasty and those pincers can pack a painful wallop, they aren’t dangerous. Earwigs are also considered beneficial insects, as they hunt common garden pests like spider mites, caterpillars, and snails.
Aphids are highly destructive insect pests. They amass in large numbers during the spring and summer to wreak havoc on your garden. As they find their way into vegetable gardens, they adhere to leaves and use needle-like mouthparts to drain plant sap and produce a sweet substance called honeydew. This honeydew spreads harmful plant-born diseases like sooty mold, leading to stunted plant growth, wilting, stunting, and death.
During the fall, these pests begin the next stage of their life cycle, overwintering by hiding on the underside of leaves and laying their eggs. As leaves begin to fall en masse, your leaf piles, gutters, and front yard can become infested with these scaly pests. Your best bet for curbing them in the spring is by vigorous application of pesticides during fall cleaning. Early in the season, spray your low-hanging trees and bushes using a store-bought insecticide, neem oil, or insecticidal soap.
Unlike many other pests on this list, rodents (specifically mice and rats) aren’t attracted to the conditions provided by leaves. Instead, they flock to leaf piles due to what’s inside. Beetles, larvae, grubs, ants, earwigs, spiders, and centipedes are all great sources of protein, and ideal prey for mice and rats. During fall and winter, rodents will come scurrying out of their hiding places to hunt insects inside leaf piles.
What’s worse, once winter begins to set in, the mice will also begin looking for places to hunker down. Like almost all pests, rodents love warm, food-filled places, making your home the ideal location for them to take refuge.
Spiders are drawn to leaves for the same reasons as centipedes: cover, food, and warmth. Unlike centipedes, however, certain spiders prefer elevation for hunting over ground cover, making your gutters a preferred nesting place. The danger posed by these creepy-crawlies, and animal waste, is why proper equipment and protective clothing are so important during fall cleaning and maintenance.
Always wear thick, protective gloves, long sleeve shirts, and eyewear when cleaning your gutters. Wear thick work boots and long pants that come to the ankle when raking leaves, and use a garden rake.
While most spiders are harmless, there are a few you should look out for during the fall:
Also known as a violin spider, this nasty arachnid has long, thin, brown legs with a white abdomen. It also has a large, brown fiddle or violin marking on its cephalothorax. The bite of this spider causes the breakdown of the walls of blood vessels and can lead to large ulcerations and nasty infections.
This spider is not always yellow but is identifiable by its large, milky-white abdomen. The bite of this spider is painful and similar to the brown recluse but much less severe.
This spider is only found in the Northwestern part of the United States, but in those regions, it’s very common and frequently invades human dwellings. The hobo spider is a type of funnel-web spider and one that is most active during colder months. This spider lays eggs in the fall and seeks warm, safe places to migrate and deposit them. The hobo spider is widely feared for its “necrotic” bite, but medical professionals often dispute the validity of this danger. This spider can be identified by its long legs with black tips, dark brown cephalothorax, and yellow-gray coloration.
The leaves littering your property create a mini, thriving ecosystem. They provide all the critical elements for creatures to survive and thrive. Insects like ants, beetles, and earwigs attract predators like spiders, centipedes, and mice. Near the end of this chain are the largest predators, snakes. These scally, slithering hunters go after mice and the largest insects.
Some are dangerous, like the cottonmouth, but most are harmless. If you’re raking leaves and see a snake darting out, don’t panic and give it space. If it’s a dangerous species, contact animal control to have it relocated, but if it’s a harmless species like a garter or black snake, it’s best to leave it be and let it do some pest control.
This category encompasses anything with wings and stingers, so bees, yellowjackets, hornets, and wasps. While these bugs are more common in the spring and summer, you can still encounter them during the fall. When raking leaves, it’s possible to kick up a still active nest of ground-dwelling species, like bumblebees, yellowjackets, or certain wasps (such as cicada killers or gall wasps).
Others enjoy nesting beneath or inside your gutters, such as paper wasps, hornets, or carpenter bees — these bugs, also known as borer bees, aren’t harmful but can dig into your fascia, causing damage. While many of these stinging bugs get a bad rap, they can be highly beneficial, specifically wasps, as they prey on other pests like:
- Flea beetles
- Leaf miners
- Cucumber beetles
While commonly thought of as a summer pest, ticks are still active in the fall. Some species have seasons of increased activity, but ticks are a year-round threat.
Furthermore, some species, such as the deer tick, see increased activity during cooler months. Ticks can attach themselves to your body, potentially going unnoticed for extended periods. These parasites can also carry dangerous illnesses like lyme disease, anaplasmosis, and babesiosis.
The fall months bring cooler weather, beautiful scenery, and, unfortunately, a host of pest problems. From overwintering ants to bothersome beetles and hunting rodents, there is no shortage of persistent pests to keep an eye on. When cleaning up your leaves in the fall, be sure to do so early, and keep your fallen foliage to a minimum as the season progresses. The more plant parts that build up, the higher the chance of infestations and pests invading your home.