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Have a Very Merry Christmas... Insect Infestation!

shutterstock_115252588.jpgHark! The holiday season is upon us!

All across the country, it's a time for sharing and caring, harmony and love; a time to lend help to those in need and appreciate your neighbors, family, friends, and fellow citizens.

For approximately forty million American households, the holiday season is also a time to bring a filthy, scratchy, allergy-inducing, insect-ridden tree into the living room, where it will remain for as long as a month.

The typical Christmas tree is teeming with holiday decor: needled

branches adorned with trinkets and baubles, wreathed in sparkling

lights. But behind the ornate festivity lurks a genuine infestation. Aphids, lice,

weevils, spittlebugs, moths, mites, and even the odd spider may reside

therein.

"There are a number of insects hiding in a Christmas tree," says Bjarte Jordal, an associate professor at the University of Bergen in Norway. "In research on Christmas trees there have been found as many as 25,000 individual creep in some of the trees."

"They go to sleep for the winter, or hibernate to use the technical term," Jordal adds.

"They usually empty their bodies of fluids and produce a chilled liquid

and are completely inactive. But they reawaken when the tree is brought

into the heat of the living room."

Most of these insects are invisible to the human eye or are simply adept at hiding. They primarily linger on or in the tree for the duration of the season, but occasionally do attempt to branch out. In 2010, a Virginian reported an instance in which a surplus of giant conifer aphids descended from their conifer confines and overstayed their welcome:

...all of a sudden, one day I saw them all over the floor surrounding the

tree. I kept finding more and more spreading out from around the tree

into other rooms. Finally we saw they were all over the trunk and

branches of the tree.

But fret not, stories like this are extremely rare, so don't let them spoil your holiday cheer! Besides, tree-infesting insects are, for the most part, completely benign. According to Jordal, "As they cannot feed on the limited plants found in most households, the

bugs will quickly dry out and die. These insects and bugs do not

constitute any risk or danger to people or furniture."

Cinara_piceae.jpgStill, nobody wants to awaken on Christmas morning to find their neatly-wrapped gifts littered with insect corpses. Thus, to lessen the potential for a holiday insect invasion, inspect any tree -- be it a conifer, pine, fir, or spruce -- thoroughly before purchasing. Search for buggy indications like whitish eggs, small holes with sawdust trails, and the creepy-crawlies, themselves. Before bringing the tree into the house, give it a good shake. This should evict many of the insect residents. 

Remember, says Jordal, "when you bring a tree into the comfort of your living room, the tree carries a part of nature with it." If such an earthy notion appeals to you, feel free to extend the holiday spirit to the thousands of insect interlopers. After all, the season is (theoretically) all about sharing and caring!

However, there's no shame in excluding our six- and eight-legged neighbors from those sentiments. Santa doesn't deliver lumps of coal for kicking bugs out of pine trees.

(Images: 1. Christmas Tree via Shutterstock 2. Conifer Aphid by Enlil2 via Wikimedia Commons)