Uninvited Holiday Guests: Part 2

Yesterday we discussed arthropod pests of Christmas trees that people find once they bring trees into their home.  In this article we will discuss arthropod hitchhikers that do not feed on Christmas trees but were unlucky enough to be on one when it was cut, bundled, and shipped.  When you get home with your tree these critters may wander off and startle the kids or amuse your cat but will not cause harm to people or become permanent residents of your home.  They do not want to be there any more (probably way less) than you want them there.

Many arthropods spend the winter as eggs that their parents laid in the fall.  The eggs

Mantid egg case attached to grass stalk. Photo: S.D. Frank

Mantid egg case attached to grass stalk. Photo: S.D. Frank

typically hatch when warm weather comes in the spring.  However, if the eggs are on a tree that you place in front of your warm yuletide fire they will hatch (please don’t put your Christmas tree near a fire, yuletide or otherwise).

Spiders frequently lay eggs on trees and hitchhike into homes on Christmas trees.  Spider hatchlings get around in nature by climbing to the top of plants and ballooning on silk threads.  Essentially they get blown around and hope to land in a good spot.  In your living room there is probably not much wind (though Grandpa always complains about the draft) but they will still string silk around the tree as they try to catch a breeze. Eventually they will give up and crawl off the tree where you might spot them on the wall.

Praying mantids are a fun insect to rear.  The egg case looks like brown

Mantid nymph. Photo: A.G. Dale, NCSU.

Mantid nymph. Photo: A.G. Dale, NCSU.

foam from which hundreds of small mantids emerge.  The young mantids are an inch or so long and very quick.  They climb all over and really freak people out who aren’t expecting them.  Young mantids are hungry, voracious predators so maybe they will eat the other bugs you didn’t know you had.  A lot of bugs live in your home no matter how clean it is.  Our friends at http://www.yourwildlife.org can tell you all about this.

People also report adult and larval lady beetles or green lacewings.  Of course people often find Asian multicolored lady beetles in their house that come in through vents and cracks to spend the winter.  It is possible that adult or larval lady beetls of other species could be hunkered down for the winter on your Christmas tree along with green lacewings and their larvae.  Green lacewings are beautiful delicate insects as adults and predators as larvae. They are very cool to watch and to feed if you happen to have some other bugs lying around.

As we mentioned yesterday, Christmas trees are a natural product grown outdoors.  Any insect that happened to land on a tree and get bundled up will emerge in your living room.  Other things we have found include bark beetles, psyllids, stinkbugs, weevils, and moths.  Just vacuum them up.  It is very unlikely any human pest, like ticks, or structural pest, like termites, would ever get transported on Christmas trees.  So don’t worry. Watch the cat go crazy and enjoy the wildlife.

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