The bugs are creepy, they’re crawly and they could be living on that freshly-cut Christmas tree you plan to bring into your home.
Oh, and there could be hundreds or thousands of those bugs on your real tree. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach says “several hundred” baby insects and spiders could be on one tree, and organic gardening manufacturer Safer Brand says up to 25,000 of those “common Christmas tree bugs” could be living on your tree.
Fortunately, there is a “very rare” chance that any bugs will come with your Christmas tree, National Christmas Tree Association spokesperson Doug Hundley told McClatchy.
“Most years, these pests are rare,” according to an article by a North Carolina State University pest management specialist. “Perhaps one tree in 100,000 has any one of these pests on it. Some years they are more of a problem – usually if the fall was warm and dry.”
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If your tree does have hundreds or thousands of bugs, you might not realize they are on your tree until after you set up and decorate that perfect holiday piece. By then, you’ll have already welcomed any possible critters into your warm home.
That’s because the eggs that were likely laid on your tree this summer or fall are dormant (or asleep) in the winter, according to ISU Extension and Outreach.
“These eggs would have remained dormant through the cold weather of winter, but you keep your house nice and warm and they think it is spring and hatch,” entomologist Laura Jesse wrote in the ISU release.
Fortunately, the tiny, microscopic bugs that could wake up in your tree are not dangerous, according to Safer Brand. Some of those bugs include aphids, bark beetles, mites, praying mantises and spiders, according to Arizona Central.
If bugs do wake up in your home and start to invade, they will usually die of starvation or desiccation (dryness) pretty quickly, ISU Extension reported.
“Christmas tree insects are so small you’ll never know they are there and they have always been on real Christmas trees,” said Doug Hundley, the seasonal spokesperson for the National Christmas Tree Association, according to Today. “On a rare occasion a particular insect like a common aphid may crawl off a tree and be noticed by the family, but these are harmless hitchhikers.”
There have been exceptions to that, though.
“Aphids and spiders from Christmas trees are an annoyance because of their presence,” Jesse wrote for ISU Extension and Outreach.
A few years ago, in England, a couple’s home was invaded with aphids after the eggs on their tree hatched, BBC reported in 2014.
“There were hundreds of them,” Andy Sykes said, according to BBC. “They weren’t mobile, they were lying on their backs twitching their legs.”
That type of situation is unlikely “even if you are introducing a whole insect ecosystem into your home as the centerpiece of your holiday revelries,” the Island Packet previously reported.
Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences reported that “a few (bugs) may be attracted to sources of light, including windows,” according to the Island Packet, but “none of these accidental introductions are a threat to your home, its contents, or occupants.”
If you want to avoid bringing the bugs into your home, there are a few things you can do that don’t include skipping the real Christmas tree this year.
Here are five prevention steps, according to Safer Brand:
▪ “Examine the underside of branches and the trunk.” If you see any branches with eggs, cut them off.
▪ “Leave the Christmas tree in your garage for a few days.” This will allow the eggs to warm up and hatch in the garage — and not where you live.
▪ “Shake the tree vigorously” over a white sheet to get out any bugs.
▪ Use a vacuum to suck up any bugs or eggs on and around your Christmas tree.
▪ Use an insecticidal powder while your tree is outside, but don’t use an aerosol pesticide, as those are “usually flammable.”
If you get your Christmas tree from a tree farm, Arizona Central says most lots have a mechanical shaker that can shake the eggs out for you.
“Sometimes it’s a few dollars extra, but it’s always worth it,” Western Exterminator entomologist Nancy Troyano said, according to the newspaper. “And when you get the tree home, give it the once over before you take it inside.”