AUBURN – Early Thursday morning, Lou Saucier of Augusta was diligently rooting by flashlight through the cellar pantry inside Bruce and Mary Ann Poliquin’s home on Josslyn Street.
He was searching for what he calls the telltale Hansel-and-Gretel trail of mouse droppings. Saucier works for Modern Pest Services, a third-generation family-owned and operated pest control company that services residential, commercial and industrial clients across New England.
“Mice have a lot of physiological shortcomings, like incontinence. They lose 75 droppings per foraging period, which is between dusk and midnight,” he said.
This fall and winter, he and other professional pest busters such as Jack Johnson of Orkin Inc., have been busier than ever because the white-footed mice, deer mouse and house mouse populations have exploded across Maine and New England.
“It doesn’t mean they’re unmanageable. It just means there’s more of them. And, once an area’s susceptible, it’s always susceptible,” Saucier said.
Johnson, Orkin’s branch manager for Bangor and Portland, said Thursday afternoon that mice calls have increased Orkin’s business 15 percent, so far, from last year.
“We service the nation, but across the whole Northeast, there’s been a major influx of rodent activity this year. It’s at a high peak right now. This is the worst year in the last 10 years, and I’ve been doing this for 18 years,” he said.
Saucier’s boss, Scott Stevenson, said Wednesday at the Brunswick-based business his grandfather started in 1945, that mice have increased their workload, too, by about 20 percent from last year.
“There is a problem, but I wouldn’t say it’s an epidemic yet,” Stevenson said. “It’s been a statewide problem that’s fluctuated a little bit, but it’s more of a problem in urban areas like Auburn and Lewiston and Portland. Probably, because there’s more houses.”
His brother Rich, Modern Pest Service’s entomologist, said Thursday by phone in Conway, N.H., that mice have been more active for a longer-than-normal time period due to warmer-than-normal temperatures that extended into January.
“We’ve been getting mouse calls left and right, more than we usually do. South Portland has been, it seems, busier than any other part of the state,” Rich Stevenson said.
Last year’s open winter, spring rains, hot summer, then extended fall and warm winter start, all combined to drive populations up, he and Johnson said.
“A house mouse reaches sexual maturity after 35 days and averages eight litters per year, producing five to eight mice a litter. That’s 30 to 35, or more, mice from one parent, and pregnancy lasts an average 19 days. They’re prolific breeders. That’s why populations can explode,” Rich Stevenson said.
Normally, people begin seeing mice in the fall as temperatures drop, driving them inside homes for warmth and food. But that didn’t start happening until December and January.
“Mice are survivalists, and will continue to forage outside a house until they find a quarter-inch space, then, Thpppt! They’re in. So, controlling them is a matter of targeting where they’re coming in,” Saucier said.
Johnson said this winter’s lack of snow up until the past two weeks, made it easier for mice to travel from barns to houses.
“Unless they’re getting into food inside a house, there’s a 90 percent chance or better that they’re still getting nuts and seeds outdoors,” he added.
Mild infestations average four to six mice per home, but severe problems mean finding two dozen or more mice on a regular basis.
“We’ve had customers homes where we’ve pulled 20 to 30 mice out of in a couple of months. In Maine, it’s mostly been a 50-50 mix between the common house mouse and deer mouse,” Johnson said.
Tom Henley of Bryant Pond said Friday that he trapped eight under his sink in 15 straight hours last week using the standard Victor trap baited with peanut butter.
“A guy at work who lives in Denmark, he’s up to 28 right now. It’s very unusual. Since we moved into this old house four years ago, this is the first time we’ve had a problem,” Henley said by phone from work in Mechanic Falls.
Trap, poison hot sellers
Besides increasing work for exterminators, the mice spike has created a run on mousetraps and d-CON at hardware stores.
“It’s been a very difficult commodity to keep in stock this year,” Joel McDonald, assistant manager at Petro’s Ace Hardware store, said Friday by phone in Auburn. “A lot of people coming in are saying they never had a problem before, and now, there’s definitely quite the problem.”
Kathy Barker, who owns and operates True Value on Main Street in Wilton, said Friday afternoon by phone that they’ve sold a tremendous amount of mousetraps and d-CON.
Sharon Sinclair, assistant manager at Aubuchon’s store in Rumford, said Friday by phone that in the past two months, they sold out of d-CON, and had to order more, but have plenty now to meet the demand.
Eric Young, the rental manager at the Norway Aubuchon, said Friday by phone that sales of mousetraps and d-CON have been higher this year than in previous years. People began flooding in in late fall.
“Usually by the end of December it starts to slow down, but sales have been pretty heavy right through to now,” Young said.