Christmas Tree Bugs

‘Tis the season for decorating and seasonal magic, but be careful if you are trying to recapture that traditional Christmas Spirit with a real pine tree. You may be inviting more than grandma over for the holidays.

Every year, families from all over bring living Christmas trees into their homes to decorate, but often, they contain creepy, crawly surprises.

While most of these insects are common, there is one that can cause serious damage and may be lurking here in Northeast Pennsylvania – the Spotted Lanternfly.

Before cutting down that tree or buying one from a tree farm, here are some pests to be aware of this season.

Christmas Tree Bugs - Spotted Lanternfly
The Spotted Lanternfly

Christmas Tree Bug Stowaways

As we pick out the perfect Christmas tree, sometimes we forget where we are taking it from nature. Sometimes instead of just the overwhelming pine or citrus scent, we end up with a few other unwanted surprises.

  • Aphids
  • Spiders and mites
  • Adelgids
  • Pine Needle Scale
  • Sawflies
  • Bark beetles
  • Praying mantises

Many of these insects are more of a nuisance than harmful. They tend to nest and house themselves in the branches and lay their eggs. While these activities are fine for the outdoors, it could prove quite a scare in your household.

In addition to bringing home hidden bugs, you may find a feathered friend in the branches as well. Be sure to inspect your tree before bringing it into your home. If not, you may end up bringing in invasive species.

Beware The Spotted Lanternfly in Northeast Pennsylvania
Spotted Lanternfly

Beware the Spotted Lanternfly

Recently, in Eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey, this invasive insect has been causing destruction, and it may possibly be headed to Luzerne or Lackawanna County. The Spotted Lanternfly is a tree-killing insect, though it is not limited to just trees.

Native to Asia, this invasive bug has already made its way through the eastern parts of the Keystone State. They prey on crops and trees, including pines.

Hitchhikers by nature, they attach to Christmas trees, plants, or other greenery to lay their eggs and multiply. Initially, they are difficult to spot, but are unmistakable once seen; they have the appearance of a bumble-bee with butterfly wings. Spotted Lanternflies have a yellow abdomen with black bands and spotted wings. They will cling to branches and lay two egg masses, yielding between 30-50 eggs.

While these pests cannot harm people or pets, they can prove devastating to our agriculture.

What Damage can Spotted Lanternflies do?

Spotted Lanternflies, or lycorma delicatula, feed on the sap of their host plants and encourage fungal growth. When they find a host, the adults lay their eggs in the fall and they breed on the plants. These large egg masses are gray in color and can be found on the tree or on nearby smooth surfaces. Throughout their life stages, these insects can kill large pine trees, vineyard grapes, fruit trees, and other essential plants.

Spotted Lanternfly on trees in PA
The Spotted Lanternfly can reproduce quickly

Removing Spotted Lanternflies

It is important to physically remove the life stages and the host trees. This includes adults, eggs, and the immature stages of the Spotted Lanternfly life cycle. The Penn State Extension of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) has a homeowner management plan to assist in controlling the spread.

You can also contact a pest control specialist to help quarantine the area. If you are purchasing a Christmas tree, or any other tree or plant, inspect them thoroughly. Additionally, inspect any outdoor items before bringing them inside. Familiarize yourself with what these insects look like in order to report and destroy them properly.

Avoiding Christmas Stowaways

Plants with a Spotted Lanternfly infestation will have weeping wounds. They will have a greyish-black trail along the trunk of the tree and it will attract other bugs to eat. Adults will lay their eggs on the host or nearby.

These grey mud-like masses will dry and crack over time. To properly dispose of the egg masses, scrape them off and double bag them. You can also put them in alcohol or hand sanitizer. Most importantly, report all sightings.

Protect Against Additional Insects

When selecting trees, be sure to examine the branches for any stowaways. Prune the branches and make any additional adjustments before bringing them inside. You may want to leave your tree in a garage or other area for a few days. You can also try to shake out the insects over a white sheet or vacuum any insects up.

Should any of these critters continue to cause a problem, consult a pest professional? The holidays can be stressful enough without extra visitors. Take the time to examine your tree and keep your home pest-free!

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