Elm trees attract pest to Colorado for first time

Meredith Shrader, the entomologist for the CSU Extension Service in Grand Junction, talks about the elm seed bug that is invading the area. An image of one of the bugs, which are about the size of a grain of rice, is projected on the screen from the microscope beside her.

The elm seed bug is a nuisance insect and has been found in Colorado for the first time in Grand Junction.

A new six-legged creature has taken up residence in Grand Junction and appears to be here to stay.

You’ll have to squint a bit to see it, since it’s roughly the size of a grain of rice.

Chances are you might find this bug trying to invade your house until the weather cools off a little bit. Whatever you do, don’t squish it, or you’ll have a stinky surprise.

The first live specimen of an elm seed bug in Colorado was discovered last week when several examples were brought into the Colorado State University Extension office. Extension entomologist Meredith Shrader confirmed the identity of the insect and worked with two other CSU entomologists to establish that these bugs have set up shop in the state for the first time.

Shrader received five separate reports of these bugs annoying residents in Grand Junction, mostly by flying around, invading their houses and being a general nuisance.

The bug is a non-native species, originally from Europe, and has been detected recently in neighboring states. It was found in Idaho in 2012, in Oregon in 2013 and Utah in 2014, Shrader said.

“It was just a matter of time before they made it here,” she said.

The timing for the bug’s discovery is no surprise — the heat wave has driven the insects to seek sanctuary.

“They’re trying to escape the heat, just like everyone else,” Shrader said.

Though the bug is a home invader, it’s only a nuisance. It doesn’t bite people or pets, cause disease or damage plants.

Because the elm seed bug eats elm seeds, anywhere with elm trees is likely to attract them, and the valley has a large population of elm trees. However, they’ve also been documented to live on linden and oak trees in Europe. The bugs don’t damage the trees, as they only feed on the papery seeds.

The best method of keeping these tiny, fast-moving bugs out of homes is to fortify a physical barrier against them, Shrader said. That means keeping doors and windows shut and making sure screens don’t have holes in them, though these bugs are tiny enough that even a small crack in caulking could provide an easy entryway for them. Homeowners can also use chemical controls with a variety of insecticides to spray a barrier around the house. She doesn’t advise spraying yards or trees to kill the insects, as they’re so mobile that they will likely come from other places within a short period of time.

Shrader said residents can use a vacuum to suck up bugs that have entered their homes, which will help them avoid the smell that emanates from the insects when they are smashed, described as a “bitter almond” odor.


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