Unexpected Christmas Pests
Although it is not as popular as it used to be, millions of American families will use a real Christmas tree for their holiday decorations. Unfortunately, many insect species also call these trees home to ride out the cold weather, or overwinter, until the warm spring weather. By bringing these trees inside the warmth of your living room, these insect hitch hikers are tricked into thinking it is spring, and begin to wake up inside your home. Before you start to panic, know that the insects that would use a Christmas tree as shelter are typically harmless, and will succumb to dehydration in your home anyways.
Some of the most common insects found on pine trees are aphids. These tiny insects use their sharp, needle-like mouth parts to suck fluids from the tree. Aphids reproduce rapidly, and there may be several thousand present on a tree. Some aphids are winged, and may fly off the tree once they’ve woken up. They will look like small gnats crawling or flying around your home. Be sure not to squish them if you do see them, as they can stain surfaces.
Another common critter that can be found on pine and fir trees are mites. These mites only feed on plants, and will not affect humans or their pets. However, because of the warmth, these mites will begin to feed on the tree again. This can cause excessive needle drop, ruining the look of your tree and creating a mess in your home. Like aphids, these mites can also stain ornaments and furniture if crushed.
Some larger insect species also lay their eggs on trees, which wait until spring to hatch. However, these eggs will also be fooled by the warm temperature of your home and begin hatching. An example of this is the praying mantis. These predatory insects will lay a clump of eggs on the tree which will begin to hatch after a few weeks indoors. These can range in color from bright green to dark brown. The praying mantis is a voracious predator, and can actually help clear the tree of any insects still living in it. Since they are harmless to people, they can also be kept as pets and live on a diet of crickets or other small insects. If you’re into that kind of thing.
Another larger insect that can disrupt your Christmas festivities is the sawfly. Unlike the name suggests, these insects are actually wasps. Fortunately, these wasps cannot sting you. Instead, their stinger is modified into a saw that they use to cut into plant material to lay their eggs. When the eggs hatch, they eat their way out of the plant. Some species, such as the Monterey Pine Sawfly larva spin a thick silk webbing around the tree for protection. This may make it look like your tree is infested by spiders, when in reality it is caterpillar-like wasp larvae.
In order to combat any holiday invaders, keep your tree in the garage for several days before bringing it into the home. This will give the insects time to wake up and/or die from dehydration. Before you do finally bring it in, vigorously shake the tree to knock any insects that may be clinging to the tree loose. Finally, vacuum up any insects that fall from the tree.
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