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Hackberry psyllids: Pests looking to escape the cold

Posted at 6:44 AM, Oct 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-29 07:44:17-04

CENTRAL TEXAS — Do you have a hackberry tree in your backyard? If so, your house might become a place to stay for a certain kind of bug, the hackberry psyllid.

They're small insects that resemble cicadas. They're a lot smaller than cicadas, though, and they don't make nearly as much noise.

If you haven't seen any psyllids yet this year, that's because they spend the warmer months hiding inside hackberry trees.

Dr. Laura Weiser Erlandson, associate professor of biology at Texas A&M - Central Texas, says the bugs hatch in the winter and spend much of the year growing underneath the safety of the bark.

"People mostly notice them in the fall when they become adults, and the adults start looking for places to get away from the cold," said Erlandson.

Seeking refuge, the insects often make human dwellings a target and a warm home is just what they're looking for. You may find psyllids clustered up against windowsills and doorways as they look for a way to get inside.

"They can get into the houses through little cracks," said Erlandson. "If you've got a screen that's either broken or open, they'll make their way inside just to stay warm."

Hackberry psyllids do not pose any hazards to humans but they can definitely become a nuisance. If enough of them pile up at your home, it may be time to intervene.

"I usually try to take care of it but I can also admit defeat," said Texas resident Mike Lewis. "So you know, if I can't get rid of them, then yeah, I would end up having to call the professionals in to do it."

Lewis's initial instincts are, in this case, the right idea. Biologists advise that even though the bugs can be annoying, they are harmless, and so the best course of action may be to leave them alone. Calling in pest control would be overkill.

"If the bugs aren't really going to harm you, I don't really see a need to put chemicals that could potentially harm you," said Erlandson.

If a psyllid were to make it inside, it wouldn't survive beyond a day or two. Your best bet is to vacuum or sweep away any bugs that begin collecting around your home.

The insects may return, however, so if you're truly set on getting rid of them for good, you'll probably need to turn to an insecticide.

Psyllids do not venture far from their hackberry tree, so if you don't have one of the trees where you live, you may go the entire fall season without seeing the bugs.

The swarms should come to an end once Central Texas gets a couple of good freezes.