This time of year, it's not uncommon for guests to enter homes, overstay their welcome and threaten one's enjoyment of the holiday season.
Rather than gently ushering them out, many Beaufort County homeowners are turning to a decidedly less festive solution: extermination.
"Our phone's ringing off the hook right now," said Billy Karijanian, general manager of Critter Management on Hilton Head Island. "For us, this is one of the busiest times of year."
With temperatures finally plunging after an unusually warm autumn, various pests are beginning an annual search for cozier environs, giving local pest-control agencies what amounts to an early Christmas present.
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Karijanian estimated that business picks up about 25 percent in winter, and other exterminators say they're busy as well.
"We've got an awful lot of calls in the past few days," said Bill Robertson of Hilton Head Exterminators. "It's just picked up tremendously."
Robertson said mice, rats and squirrels are especially common intruders this time of year.
"They tend to nest in attics, and we get calls every year from people who discover them when they're getting their Christmas decorations," he said.
Robertson said business typically spikes immediately before Christmas, as homeowners prepare for holiday company.
"No one wants their grandchildren to see a mouse in their home," Robertson said.
The infestation is exacerbated by a seasonal absence of the rodents' natural predators, according to Craig Jones of Jones Consulting and Pest Services in Beaufort.
"A lot of their cold-blooded predators, like snakes, aren't active in winter," Jones said.
To help prevent an infestation, Jones recommended carefully monitoring a home's exterior.
"A lot of people pile up leaves and mulch and keep stacks of firewood near the outside of the house," Jones said. "Those become great places for rodents to take shelter from nighttime predators like owls."
Jones also encouraged homeowners to check for any holes in the wood around their houses, explaining that squirrels and rats can easily gnaw at a tiny opening until it is a gaping entrance.
In such instances, he said, it's best to plug any holes with hardware cloth of quarter-inch mesh, typically sold at home-improvement stores.
And if rodents still find a way to sneak in?
"Don't panic," Jones said. "They're shy animals; that's why they gravitate toward areas with low activity. Remember, humans are like a T-Rex to them."
Follow reporter Grant Martin at twitter.com/LowCoBiz.