| January 31, 2013

If you thought you were safe indoors from what lives outside, think again.

A house in need of repairs looks no different to a critter than a campsite in the woods.

Fortunately, with careful inspection and a little bit of effort, you can turn your pad into an impenetrable fortress against aggressors of all sizes.

Click through to see the nine worst killers that can get you where you live—along with how to keep them at bay.

READ: 14 Household Myths Debunked

We've got tips for keeping alligators off your property, scorpions out of your shoes, and bears from turning your garbage into a free buffet—all with the hope of preventing potentially fatal bites, stings, and sharp claws from striking you dead in the place you call home.

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake

How it kills: These diamondbacks aren't known for being the most aggressive rattlers on the block, but at up to 7 feet long, they're certainly the biggest—and the most venomous in the US, with bites that cause spontaneous bleeding, hypotension, and swelling that can lead to cardiac arrest. When threatened, they can strike a distance at least a third of their length and sink their fangs into your flesh repeatedly, often without rattling to give you fair warning to run. And how are they threatened? Well, say, when you bump into them in your own house!

How to get it before it gets you: Unfortunately, your basement or garage may be more welcoming than any burrow or nook outdoors, especially when it's hot and muggy. Seal all foundation cracks and any openings ¼ inch or larger. Close the garage door when it's unattended, and be careful when accessing crawl spaces. Keep your yard tidy so snakes have nowhere to hide.

READ: Top 10 Home Danger Zones


How it kills: These guys aren't just desert dwellers—they're scattered throughout the southern half of the country, mainly west of the Mississippi River. If their territory is disrupted, they'll make themselves right at home in a folded pile of fresh laundry or, worse, inside your shoes or between your sheets. Scream at the top of your lungs, and these expert danger-sensing predators will sting, causing intense pain, tenderness, and tingling at the wound site. Though few species are dangerously toxic to humans, small children are particularly susceptible to the scorpion's venom, and untreated stings can lead to death by heart or respiratory failure.

How to get it before it gets you: Scorpions glow under a black-light bulb, but if you don't have one handy to find them, reduce infestation with these suggestions: Only bring firewood inside the house when you're ready to burn it, and keep grass mowed and branches cut back from your roofline. Also, install weatherstripping and sturdy screens around any loose-fitting windows or doors, plug foundation cracks, and caulk around pipes and roof eaves.


How it kills: Particularly a problem in the Sunshine State and the bayous of Louisiana, alligators can crush human bones—meaning your arms and legs—with a single bite. Like other wild animals, if you feed them, they'll associate food with humans, potentially turning you into dinner in your own dining room.

How to get it before it gets you: These guys are big, so there's not much chance of them sneaking into your place through a crack or hole. But leave a door open and they'll mosey on in, and they like a waterside backyard as much as you do. If they're abundant in your area, consider installing a wire mesh fence around your backyard, especially if you have a pond or pool. And remember: Don't feed them.

Black Widow Spider

How it kills: Unwanted but not uncommon house guests due to their size (less than 1/3 inch, at their longest), black widows build their loose, haphazard webs in dark places: the corners of rooms, under couches, and in basements or garages. Look out for adult females—brush up against a web the wrong way, and they'll bite, leaving behind a trail of cramping, nausea, respiratory pain, and possible paralysis at your expense.

How to get it before it gets you: Learn to identify a widow (shiny and dark; females have a reddish-orange hourglass mark on their abdomen), and periodically inspect the home hot spots listed above for webs while wearing gloves. Increase illumination in corners with artificial lights and by arranging furniture accordingly. Prevention is best, but vacuuming a widow and its web is safer than trying to crush it with a book, magazine, or hand.

READ: House Spiders: Friend or Foe?

Rabid Bat

How it kills: Sick bats won't think twice about entering your home, because like other rabid animals, they display decreased wariness around people. One's probably already turned your attic into a makeshift cave and is waiting patiently to bring pain with its infectious saliva-laden bite when you take it by surprise. Things get tricky—and deadly—if you don't seek immediate testing and treatment.

How to get it before it gets you: Avoid contact with wild bats, dead or alive. Bat-proof your home by repairing exterior holes and slits—think matchbook-size—that a bat can feasibly wiggle through.

READ: Keep Furry Winter Pests Out!