Some 35,000 named species of spiders occupy Planet Earth, scientists say, and many thousands more have yet to be identified and named. Of those, some 3,500 species are native to North America. Yet remarkably few of those spider species are poisonous to humans. In California, including here in Sacramento, the spider that poses the greatest danger to humans is the black widow.

Here at Pinnacle Pest Control, we’re getting about four calls a day about black widow spiders, primarily from customers in the Elk Grove, Roseville, and Rocklin areas. Less than six months ago, we received a call about a customer of ours getting bit by a black widow spider. He’s fine now but was hospitalized for three days. The spider was living in one of his shoes. (He likes to wear loafers barefoot.)

The mature female black widow is larger than the male of the species, with a shiny, bulbous black abdomen and body length of about 5/16 to 5/8 inches, not counting its legs. The underside of the female’s abdomen is distinguished by red or orange markings in the shape of an hourglass. The male looks different, with a less pronounced abdomen, mottled grey-green markings overall, and a lighter, yellowish hourglass marking on his underside. If you are bitten, the female black widow is the likely culprit.spiders, primarily from customers in the Elk Grove, Roseville, and Rocklin areas. Less than six months ago, we received a call about a customer of ours getting bit by a black widow spider. He’s fine now but was hospitalized for three days. The spider was living in one of his shoes. (He likes to wear loafers barefoot.)

Black widows have a voracious appetite for insects, and as a result are often found out of doors or in garden sheds, garages, attics and cellars. They are nocturnal, and like to live in places where they can remain hidden by day, emerging to hunt at night. Thanks to their love of hidden places, you may have an unwelcome encounter with them while organizing your potting bench, rearranging your storage shed, or cleaning your garage. Curious kids and pushy pups also can be at risk. Be sure to wear gardening gloves when cleaning up yard waste, and shake out globes and boots before putting them on if they’ve been sitting around your garage for a while.

Initially a black widow bite may feel like a pinprick or bee sting, and you may see redness or a red streak at the bite site, with other symptoms coming on within the hour. Although the bite of a black widow is unlikely to be fatal, it can cause severe pain, muscle cramps, sweating, nausea and other uncomfortable symptoms, with increased danger for very young children, seniors and those with compromised immune systems. If you believe you or a family member have suffered a black widow bite, call your doctor immediately.

The black widow spider is sometimes mistaken for a couple of imposters who also appear in California: the brown widow, which has a mottled tan, brown, and gray, with an orange and yellow “hourglass”; and the false black widow, which is smaller than the mature black widow, chocolate brown in color and has no red marking on its underside. Neither of these is a true “California girl” but rather immigrated to the Golden State, the brown widow from Africa, the false black widow from Europe. Although these two also may bite, they are less venomous than the black widow. Primarily found in the southern part of the state, they have been gradually expanding their territory.

Although many spiders serve a beneficial purpose in the ecosystem and are harmless to humans, the black widow, when living in our homes and yards can pose a serious risk to children, pets and the hapless weekend gardener. Your pest control professional can correctly identify the types of spiders occupying your home or garden and advise you on ways to remove and prevent them from moving into your space. Meanwhile, be sure you shake out your loafers before sticking them on your bare feet!


With cooler fall weather on its way—we hope!—perhaps with some much needed rain, many of the pests most common and dangerous in our Sacramento region begin to look for warm, snug places to ride out the winter. One of those most likely to move into your home or commercial building is the roof rat, otherwise known as Rattus rattus.

Neither Rattus rattus nor its relative, the Norway rat (Rattus norvegicus) are California natives; both originated in Asia and spread over most of the world centuries ago. The roof rat is smaller than its Norwegian relative, weighing 5 to 10 ounces, and is light gray or near-white in color, with a pointed snout, long ears and a long black tail the length of its body. The Norway rat larger, averaging 7 to 18 ounces, is darker in color, with short ears and tail.

Many of us think of rats as ground-dwelling creatures who scurry along alleys and under the bushes. But Rattus rattus is a climber, and your cozy, insulated attic looks mighty inviting as a place to nest and raise a litter of baby rats. The roofs of many buildings harbor handy entryways for these resourceful, smart and dangerous critters—unscreened ventilation vents, bent or torn flashing around chimneys and pipes, even missing or damaged shingles. Likewise, overhanging tree branches, pergolas and rain gutters offer rats an easy climb to gain access. One local homeowner we know saw a rat scurrying off her roof and over a backyard pergola around twilight one evening, only to lose sight of him in some tree branches. A flashlight revealed the rat’s destination: It was hanging upside down from a tree branch by its back claws, munching on a bird-food bell hung from the same branch.

Signs you have rats can include droppings near pet bowls, food containers or recycling bins; signs of digging near fences or around sheds; the sight of a rat traveling a utility line or tree branch at dusk; or even a rat carcass presented to you by the family pet. But often, particularly in the case of roof rats, you will hear them: scurrying or scuffling sounds, even squeaks or squeals, coming from overhead as you lay in bed late at night.

Disney cartoons aside, Rattus rattus is no laughing matter. Rats eat and contaminate human and animal food and are prodigious chewers fond of electrical wiring. They have been known to chew through phone wires and have been blamed for electrical fires. Roof rats carry many diseases dangerous to humans and pets, including typhus, leptospirosis, trichinosis, salmonella, ratbite fever and plague. Insulation material makes great nesting material, and they often leave it shredded and fouled with urine and feces.

Our pest control company has been assisting homeowners and business owners in eliminating rats for many years. But until recently, there was little we could do to mitigate the structural damage and unsanitary conditions left behind. That’s why we will be rolling out a brand new service, just in time for cool-weather rat season, that will include repair of any structural damage, removal of all contaminated insulation and rat waste, sanitization of the area, and replacement of insulation with a new, environmentally safe blown insulation product that will actually deter rats, insects and other pests from taking up residence in your attic in the future.

Our pest control technicians are already undergoing training in this new product line, and we’ll be telling you more about this new service soon. It is a service our customers have been requesting for some time, and we’re glad to be able to respond—not only in getting the rats out of our customers’ attics, but in returning their homes or commercial spaces to safe, sanitary and healthful conditions.

Although we’re enjoying (or cursing) unseasonably warm weather in Sacramento this fall, eventually cooler weather and rain (if we’re lucky) will set in for the winter. The cooler weather drives rats and mice indoors, looking for a warm, dry place to nest and raise their young. That’s why at this time of year calls from customers who suspect they have a rodent problem skyrocket.

Scientists characterize urban rodents—in particular the house mouse, Norway rat and roof rat, or black rat—as among the world’s most “successful” mammals, right up there with humans. As noted rodentologist Bobby Corrigan wrote recently for PCT Magazine, rodents are successful for six reasons: 1) they adapt easily to different types of structures and environments; 2) they reproduce quickly when conditions are good; 3) they can raise whole families in very small spaces; 4) they are secretive, elusive, active at night and alert to danger; 5) their body shapes and colors help them to hide; and 6) they are relatively smart. “Rats, for example, are considered to be highly intelligent,” Corrigan writes for PCT, “because research has proven they can learn and perform new tasks — an important asset when entering a new building or area for the first time.”

Corrigan cites several qualities of roof rats that have allowed them to adapt so successfully to civilization:

  • They navigate easily in high spaces above the sightline of humans and other natural predators, such as dogs and skunks.
  • They nest in difficult-to-access spaces—attics, ceiling spaces, dense foliage and treetops.
  • They range 500 feet or more to find food, often crossing multiple property lines. Where do you begin to treat?
  • They move in and out of homes and buildings, living indoors for a few weeks or months, then moving outdoors into trees or bushes.

But we know from experience, that colder, rainy weather tends to move them inside—often into your attic or crawlspace.

A rodent problem is not one that can be left untreated. Not only do rats and mice cause significant property damage—chewing through wires and cables, gnawing woodwork and other structures, creating fire hazards—they carry a number of diseases harmful to humans. If left to nest comfortably in your attic, basement storeroom, or backyard shed, a few rats will quickly become an army. According to the University of California-Davis Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program, “The average number of litters a female roof rat has per year depends on many factors, but generally it is 3 to 5 with 5 to 8 young in each litter.”

In order to effectively protect your home from rats or mice, the first step is to determine where the pests are most active and how they are getting in, and treat those areas first. (For a list of signs you have a rat or mouse infestation, check out this UC Davis Integrated Pest Management publication: The second step is to clean and sanitize the area, removing rodent droppings and urine stains, repair any damage to wiring, wall board or woodwork, and replacing dirty and damaged insulation, preferably with an environmentally friendly insulation product containing a pest repellent. The final step is to rodent-proof your space so that you won’t have a repeat of the problem the next time the weather takes a turn.

Your licensed pest professional is trained to inspect your home or business; determine where the rats are coming in; where the rats are active now versus old, inactive sites; and how much damage has been done. Our company’s service also includes cleanup and sterilization, repairs, reinsulation with a “green” product that rats don’t like, and rat-proofing the area to prevent the critters from coming back in.

In our Sacramento region, rats often move into your home or place of business without you even knowing it, according to the experts of the University of California Integrated Pest Management program. “People don’t often see rats, but signs of their presence are easy to detect,” according to the UC IPM Rat Management Guidelines.

In our professional experience, home- and business owners all too often do realize they have a rat problem, usually when they hear noises from overhead and sometimes after extensive damage to their property has already been done.

In our pest control region, two types of rats are predominant, the Norway rat and the roof rat, and the one we receive the most calls about is the roof rat. Roof rats love the fruits, nuts and berries that grow in many of our Northern California yards. “When feeding on a mature orange, they make a small hole through which they completely remove the contents of the fruit, leaving only the hollowed-out rind hanging on the tree,” according to the UC IPM program. “They’ll often eat the rind of a lemon, leaving the flesh of the sour fruit still hanging.”

If only they stayed out of doors. Roof rats do not like to nest at ground level; rather they prefer to be off the ground, in overgrown bushes or trees, or, if they can find a way to get in, the attics of our homes and commercial buildings. They get into our attics by means of the trees and foliage in our yards, drain spouts, pergolas, then as their name implies, onto our roofs and into any tiny opening they can find into our attics. As the weather grows cooler and wetter with fall, roof rats are more and more likely to seek shelter indoors.

Once inside, the damage they can do is extensive. In addition to contaminating and spoiling any people food or pet food they may have access to, they gnaw on nearly anything, including electrical and telephone wiring, wooden doors and woodwork, and drywall, and they shred insulation for use as nesting material. The number of litters they have annually varies with food supply and conditions, but UC says they generally have three to five liters per year, with five to eight rat “pups” per litter.

The danger goes beyond electrical fire danger and property damage. All rats, including our local roof rats, are known carriers of typhus, leptospirosis, salmonellosis (food poisoning), ratbite fever, and even plague.

Controlling rats involves a three-pronged approach: elimination of the existing rats; repair and sanitation of the environment; and sealing off any points of entry into your structure. We at Pinnacle have recently expanded our menu rodent control services: We have always offered our customers a money-back guarantee to remove rats from their premises—but too often, a lot of damage was already done. Now we can take the additional steps of cleaning your attic and removing any rat waste, food hoards, and nesting material; repairing structural damage and sealing all points of entry; and reinsulating your attic with an environmentally friendly insulation product. By the time we leave, the rats are gone, and your attic is restored to its original clean and secure condition.

Have you laid awake at night, as many of our customers have, listening to the scrabble of feet overhead? We’d love the opportunity tell you more about our rat remediation services. We can promise you a better night’s sleep.

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