Pest side story

The truth about the disgusting, horrifying and just plain gross beasties you endure as a bugged-out New Yorker.

Bedbugs are coming to get you.



“They’re certainly on the rise,” says Seth Donlin of the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which has issued 2,009 bedbug violations in fiscal year 2007 (up from 1,195 in 2006). While these bugs don’t carry any diseases, they’re sneaky little suckers that are hard to find and harder to get rid of. “They can live in all kinds of crazy things people don’t think of,” Donlin says. “You can have your mattress chemically treated, but they might be living in your dresser or your headboard; they can even crawl into your phone or alarm clock.” If you do find them (or the itchy welts they leave when they bite), call the HPD (dial 311) and a professional exterminator. And do yourself a favor and stop picking up secondhand stuff from the street. Sofas, lamps and even paintings can be hiding places for these nasty invaders.

Mice live in your shower pipes; your water is filtered through mice hair and poop.


“No, it’s not possible. It’s a pipe they couldn’t get into,” says Paul Huckemeyer, owner of Liquid Tech Plumbing & Heating. Janet Albanese, vice president of Rodent Busters, agrees: “If the pipes are abandoned, they’ll find a void and make a nest—but not in running water. They’re not beavers.”

Roaches crawl into your ears while you sleep.

Roach in the ear
A roach chilling in an ear canal


“I’ve never seen them nest, but I’ve certainly removed multiple things from people’s ears and noses, including insects,” says Dr. William Portnoy, an otolaryngologist at the Chelsea Ear, Nose & Throat Center (he provided the gross picture above). “I’ve seen roaches, but silverfish are most common,” he explains. “Sometimes they stay alive in the ear canal, and it can be extraordinarily disconcerting to the patient.” In those cases, mineral oil is poured in to suffocate the insect, or lidocaine to stun it; then it is removed with scary instruments we’d rather not think about. Your best preventive measure is to sleep with earplugs or cotton balls.

You’re not safe in your bed. Rats and mice can find you.


Snacking in your Craftmatic? Then you might be attracting a partner even more annoying than your ex. Rats and mice love to climb. “They’ll go up the bedspread or the comforter, whatever’s hanging on the floor,” adds Andy Linares, president of Bug Off Pest Control Center. Although no one wants to spend the night with a rodent, don’t panic too much about getting bitten. “The number of rat bites in relation to the population of New York is negligible,” Linares says. “They’re petrified of us. You’ll only get bit if you corner an aggressive rat.”

West Nile virus is gone.


In 1999, NYC saw 62 cases of encephalitis caused by WNV—the first time it had appeared in the Western Hemisphere. By 2006, 20 people had died from it. The bad news is that the outbreak has been detected in all five boroughs, and the season’s first human case (a woman in Brooklyn) was diagnosed and treated just a few weeks ago. The city tracks dead-bird reports and mosquito populations and sprays regularly to keep things under control. The WNV “season” runs from May through October; avoid standing water and cover up outside.

Watch your ass. Rats can come up through your toilet.


“Yes, it can happen, and yes, I’ve seen it,” says Linares of Bug Off Pest Control Center. “If there’s access to the plumbing line, they can come right up. It’s not uncommon for people to call with a rat swimming in their toilet. Most exterminators have gone through that.” This is why, he explains, there are companies that sell toilet flaps (fitted around the pipe in the tank) that move in only one direction, so that spelunking rats can’t break into your bowl.

Your mattress is infested with mites.


Get over it. They don’t bite, they just live off your dead skin, and while that is gross, it’s not really a huge deal. You can’t see them, and unless you have a sensitive allergy, you won’t even feel them. If it still bothers you, cover your mattress with a hypoallergenic sleeve and clean your box spring with a HEPA vacuum.

Bugs will invade and lay eggs in food you leave out.


“Weevils, beetles, flour moths—these are all common food contaminants that attack dry goods: pasta, cereal, rice, crackers,” Bug Off’s Linares says. Common sense is the best solution; keep food in airtight containers. The other worry, he adds, is fruit flies. “Organic food is precontaminated for your convenience, so you’re bringing in goods with eggs and preadult insects in them,” Linares says. He quickly adds that it’s not serious. “Once you cook it, the heat will negate any bacteria, but still, you don’t want a face full of beetle larvae for breakfast.”

Got a gross animal story? Share it at