When north winds blow and furnaces click on, when fireplaces blaze and kitchens fill with the scents of soups and fresh-baked goodies, we naturally retreat inside for the comforts of home.
So do mice.
"It's cold and they're cold, and you have a warm house, and that's where they want to live," said Cindy Betts of Betts Pest Control in Wichita.
Reports of mouse infestations seem earlier and more widespread in some parts of Wichita this year, exterminators say, because more baby mice made it through the summer months.
"You'd think that, with as hot as this summer was, it would have killed them out. But in fact, heavy rains will kill out more (mice) than hot temperatures," said Kent Foley of Arrest-A-Pest Pest Solutions.
Most years, heavy rains drown many young mice during nesting season, Foley said. That didn't happen this year, "so you're going to have a higher survival rate."
And it's not just mice. Foley said calls about spiders and all manner of pesky insects have gone up as well. "With the temperatures dropping, anything that's outside will want to come in," he said.
That means more mice and other critters looking for a way into your warm, cozy home to build nests, start families and scamper about.
It doesn't take much for them to get inside — mice can squeeze through an opening the size of your pinky fingernail, Foley says — so the best prevention is to keep your house sealed.
Betts suggested inspecting the outside of your house for "the smallest of cracks," as well as wider openings such as those around dryer vents, water hydrants, doors and windows.
"The biggest thing is, you've got to stop their access," she said. Place foam sealant or steel wool around pipes leading outside, and carefully caulk openings around windows and doors.
Another tip: Keep garage doors closed and pet food or bird seed in sealed containers. If you have dog bowls outside, pick them up at night.
"One little nugget of dog food, that is a buffet for a mouse," Betts said.
Once inside, mice reproduce like crazy. The life span of an average house mouse is one to two years, and a female mouse can give birth five to 10 times a year, with five to 10 mice per litter. That means if you have one mouse, you probably have lots.
Getting rid of mice can be tricky because they're elusive creatures. Most exterminators use a combination of poisons and traditional snap-traps or glue boards baited with peanut butter.
Hardware and home improvement stores sell devices that plug into an electrical outlet and emit high-frequency sound waves that allegedly repel mice. Foley said he's not convinced those products, which cost between $18 and $30, actually work.
"I see them (in houses) all the time, but I'm there in those houses because the mice are still there," he said.
It's important to get rid of mice because they can damage property and spread disease through their parasites, feces and urine, Foley said. Deer mice can transmit hantavirus, a potentially fatal respiratory disease.
"I would just urge people: If you think you have a problem, get on it quickly because it will multiply fast and there are numerous concerns with that," Foley said. "They need to be gotten rid of."