Unofficial Guide to Israeli Vermin

No, this is not a political rant.

Here is the homeowner’s guide to insects you are likely to encounter in Israel.

Jukim. Known by exterminators as tikanim (tikanot?). These are huge, winged, roach-like creatures that fly in without warning through upper-story windows. Watch out for them when you go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Pick them up with a newspaper and fling them back out the window, to head for your neighbor’s apartment. We get five to ten of these each summer.

Headlice. I know they have them in America as parents’ magazines contain full-time ads for anti-lice shampoos. Your average child will get infested with lice about ten times before puberty. Here’s where covering your hair, and big kippot, come in handy. Lice are transferred from head to head (in other words, in school and play) and not by hats, pillowcases or carpet. They don’t live long without a fresh supply of blood, so vacuuming, changing sheets, etc. is a waste of time. Eggs can survive away from the head, but if they don’t have food when they hatch they will still die.

There are a lot of ways to kill live lice, but man has not yet invented a way to completely get rid of nits (eggs). The shampoos claim to, and so do the combs, and the home remedies like vinegar, but none of them removes 100% of the eggs from the hair. You only have to miss one for the cycle to start all over again. The mature lice lay about 4 eggs a day. The eggs take a week to hatch, and another week to grow to maturity.

The trick is to remove all the baby lice before they are big enough to lay eggs. The best way is to comb thoroughly with any lice comb every other day. The hair should be wet and have a little conditioner in it. Comb long hair with a wide-toothed comb first to get out knots. When first hatched lice are very tiny and might not be caught by the comb, but if you are consistent you can get rid of them in about two weeks. If you are consistent. Very consistent. Shampooing twice is generally ineffective because the lice are resistant to the chemicals, and you still have to comb.

Maggots. Maggots are fly larvae. We have only had them twice, and I hope you never will. How to grow them: Place one rotten tomato in the garbage can, and have one child neglect to take out the garbage. Result: Little worms, that look like large grains of rice, scooting out of the garbage cabinet throughout the main area of the house. Solution: Wet the floor (I added vinegar and it didn’t seem to repel them–get it?) and squeegee the water and larvae from the floor to a dustpan to a bucket to the toilet.

Bugs in food. Sugar, cocoa, coffee, oil, and true spices like cinnamon (as opposed to herbs) don’t attract bugs. Everything else does. At various times I have found them in just about every fruit and vegetable, all grains, noodles, etc. I once opened a clementine and found worms. There is also a type of insect that lives on the outside of citrus fruits; you know it by picking it off with your fingernail. Watch out when you peel fruit or use the peel for zest. I rarely encounter bugs–I buy grains in air-conditioned stores with lots of turnover. Buying from closed packages is not necessarily better than buying from open sacks as the packages came from the sacks too. When you get home put grains and legumes straight in the freezer. I buy freshly ground flour (we stock up in Jerusalem as it can’t be gotten in the Tel Aviv area cheaply even in Bnei Brak) and keep it in the freezer. I hate sifting.

Mosquitoes. Most homes in Israel don’t have screens. Enough said.

Flies. Every so often our town gets infested with flies. Since we moved to a higher floor we are less bothered, but before we moved we had days with hundred of flies over everything. The cause seemed to be recent garbage strikes. A lot of rotten tomatoes in those garbage cans. Did I say we don’t have screens? I have a lot of windows.

Fleas. My kids (and those of the neighbors) once brought fleas home from gan. We weren’t the only ones. My poor son (not the preschooler) must have had about 50 bites on one leg alone, and the bites itch terribly for days. As opposed to lice, get rid of fleas by vacuuming mattresses and sofas and change sheets frequently for about two weeks, to get rid of the eggs. And don’t forget to empty out the vacuum cleaner bag. If that doesn’t work an exterminator will be necessary.

Pigeon lice. And you thought only people had lice. Once two pigeons built a nest outside my children’s window. We thought it was cute, until I found tiny bugs on the inside wall around the window. My husband says he remembers them marching in a line. Naturally, it was the Tuesday before the only three-day yom-tov in five years (Rosh Hashanah on a Wednesday night), and we had a wedding that evening. I called an exterminator anyway and sent my kids to a very dear friend along with a babysitter.

Grasshoppers. Some are kosher, including the ones from a year or so ago who swarmed over Eilat. Just like in the Torah. And in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book. Fortunately they didn’t make it to the Tel Aviv area.

Pinworms. These are true worms, not insects. They are harmless, common, annoying, and disgusting. Two rounds of Vermox gets rid of them. We always have the stuff around. Some say garlic and pumpkin seeds work just as well.

Ants. We had ants when we moved to our apartment, but they did not come back after we exterminated.

We have small lizards on our roof, and even inside occasionally, but supposedly they are good for the plants and cause no harm.

We have bees and butterflies too! Come visit soon.


  1. This is more about bugs then I needed to know. And luckily I’ve only experienced a few of these but of course they were the worst ones: roaches, ants (the exterminator was at our place last week)and Lice. I can’t get rid of the lice. Even if I comb them away the children just end up getting them again either from each other or from playmates.
    So here I am and I’ll be back. I’ll email you my address.

  2. mother in israel says

    Thanks Rachel for stopping by. I got rid of the lice when my pre-teen daughter decided on her own that it was important to her and started to comb her own hair. Then it stopped going to the younger children. One son had it once since then but we finished with it quickly.

  3. I’ve done a few posts called “My Machalot” which included Lice…I have a half-written one about pinworms, but until our house is truly rid of them (and for us they aren’t so harmless) I can’t bear to write about it. Do pumpkin seeds really work? I can’t get the girls to eat garlic.

    (I just noticed this post is from August…for some reason it just re-appeared in Bloglines)