Christmas tree hitchhikers
Picking out a real Christmas tree from a local tree farm is a tradition for many. However you may be bringing small creatures inside the home as well - and we're not talking elves. Keith Jarvi is an extension educator with the University of Nebraska. He says insects such as aphids, mites, and spiders like to hang out between the needles.
Occasionally, aphids will hatch from Christmas trees in sufficient numbers to cause alarm. Most aphids are tiny, inactive, and usually go unnoticed. Some Cinara aphids may be mistaken for small spiders or ticks. Aphids, however, have only six legs, while spiders and ticks have eight. Jarvi says all aphids on Christmas trees are host-specific, meaning they won't feed on your houseplants.
Many species of predatory mites overwinter as adults and become active when exposed to warm temperatures in the home. Most of these tiny, light-colored mites will go unnoticed. Several species of bird parasites may be found in nesting material, so any bird nests on the tree should be removed to assure no mites are brought inside.
Sometimes a tree (especially white pine) will seem to develop its own "flocking" on twigs and bark. Jarvi says this is probably due to the pine bark adelgid, a tiny aphid-like sucking insect that secretes cottony wax filaments over it's body. The adelgids are harmless and do not leave the tree, but the spontaneous "flocking" may be a cause for curiosity or even concern.
Crawlers of scale species that overwinter in the egg stage may appear on trees kept indoors long enough for eggs to hatch. They may be noticeable as tiny, slowly moving red specks, and are easily knocked from the tree.
Spiders found on Christmas trees are predators of insects and are not dangerous to people or pets. Jarvi says they are either overwintering species that have become active or spiderlings that have hatched after being exposed to warm temperatures. In most cases, they will stay on the tree and go unnoticed. But if they wander around, they may weave small webs on walls, ceilings, or furniture. Spiders brought in with the tree are not indoor species and will die in a short time because of their new, unsuitable environment.
Control of these temporary invaders should be limited to non-chemical means. Aerosol insect sprays are flammable and should NOT, under any circumstances, be sprayed on the Christmas tree. Any bugs that collect on ceilings, walls, or windows can be eliminated with a vacuum cleaner. Don't crush them; they'll stain your walls.
Remember that these insects are normally found outdoors on live trees. Jarvi says if any escape the vacuum, warm temperatures, low humidity, and lack of appropriate food conditions typical of most homes will usually kill these invaders in a short time.
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