Consumers be aware of unsuspecting insects in Christmas trees

NOTE: If you buy a real Christmas tree, you should also look for invasive pests such as hemlock woolly adelgid, balsam woolly adelgid, and pine bark beetles.

by Blair Fannin, Texas A&M AgriLife

This holiday season, consumers should be aware of unwanted critters that may find their way into homes clinging to a freshly cut Christmas tree,  said a Texas A&M University entomologist.

Dr. David Ragsdale, head of the university’s entomology department in College Station, said it’s not uncommon for insects to sometimes make their way into homes after a tree has been purchased from a tree farm or retailer.

“It should be no surprise that when a living plant is brought into the house it has hitchhikers,” he said.

It’s not uncommon for spiders to take refuge on trees, Ragsdale said. And where there are insects, there are likely spiders.

“For example, the black widow likes dark places and they do not build the classical spider web,” he said. “They instead have a rather chaotic web, and attack an insect that gets tangled in their web. Their strategy is to sit and wait for their meal to walk by.”

Ragsdale said consumers need to use common sense and be mindful live trees “are just like bringing fresh cut flowers from the garden into the home.”

“Does it surprise anyone that you might have insects in a live tree growing on a large Christmas tree farm? Where there are green plants there will be insects and insects are the natural prey of spiders and other predators.”

“You just need to be vigilant,” he said. “Before cutting off the base to place in the stand, give the live tree a good shake outside before bringing indoors. This knocks off the dried needles and could dislodge insect hitchhikers.”

Same goes when purchasing a live tree and temporarily storing it in the garage. Ragsdale said it’s always a good idea to inspect the tree for any unwanted insects before taking the tree inside and decorating.

“You don’t have to go to an extreme and use an insecticide,” he said. “Just give it a good visual inspection before bringing it into the home. All in all, a live Christmas tree is the centerpiece of Christmas tradition.”

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