Bugged by bugs? Southern Utah residents getting swarmed by insects

ST. GEORGE — Many residents of Southern Utah are being bugged by bugs lately, as several different types of pests have been proliferating in large numbers.

Green stink bug | Photo courtesy of Shakespeare Pest Control, St. George News

Experts say the invasion of insects is attributable to a combination of factors, including a wetter than average spring.

“We’ve got a couple of things going on. One is the really wet winter and spring that we had,” Bill Heyborne, an associate biology professor at Southern Utah University who teaches entomology classes, told St. George News. “And then, we had kind of a slow summer warm-up, and so a lot of things just stayed dormant, eggs underground, that kind of thing, and then it warmed up really quickly. I think the combination of the two has led to a lot of the outbreaks that we’re seeing.”

Several different types of insects have been reported throughout the region in large numbers lately, including grasshoppers, gnats, false chinch bugs and green stink bugs. Outside of Southern Utah, large swarms of “Mormon crickets,” a type of katydid, were recently reported in Idaho.

“Insects are so tied to environmental conditions, temperature, moisture, food availability, all of those things,” Heyborne noted. “Sometimes, the stars just align and conditions end up being just perfect for a particular species of insect. And so you’ll get a very large outbreak one year and then you won’t see them for a decade. There may be a few here and there, but nothing much. And then the stars will align again you’ll see them again.”

See swarms of insects outside a business in St. George in the video at the top of this report, courtesy of TW Petersen.

As for what people can do about the various bugs, Heyborne said viable options tend to be limited.

“If insects are in people’s homes and causing problems, they really ought to call a professional exterminator and deal with that,” he said. “Outdoors, there’s not a whole lot we can do. I mean, people could use insecticides, but often insecticides come with their own risks and their own side effects. So my recommendation for people is if they’re outside, no, I’m sorry. You’re going to have to just deal with it.

Gnats flock to a light fixture at a residence in Southern Utah, July 2019 | Photo courtesy of Candice Sudweeks, St. George News

“If it’s gnats, you’re going to have to wear some insect repellent and cover up. If it’s grasshoppers and they’re eating your garden, you might need to spray. But if they’re just, you know, on the side of your house or whatever, maybe just leave them be. If they’re getting inside, you better call an exterminator.”

Danny Shakespeare of Shakespeare Pest Control in St. George said his business has received many calls about swarms of green stink bugs over the past few days.

“Thursday, Friday and Saturday we got hundreds of calls about them, and there’s just not much you can do about it,” he said. “You can kind of help alleviate it a little, but it’s not a fix.”

“It’s more of a band-aid,” Shakespeare explained. “We can spray and it’ll kill a bunch of them, but they’ll just keep coming.”

“We’ve been doing some of that (spraying pesticide) for some facilities, but it doesn’t really make a difference,” he said. “In some ways, it makes it worse because now they’re dealing with a bunch of dead ones and then the live ones are still flying in. And so now they’re having to sweep up tons of dead ones and deal with all the live ones that are coming in. Then they’ll die and a new wave will come in.”

To help alleviate the problem, Shakespeare recommends residents turn off their lights at night and make sure all exterior windows and doors are sealed with weather stripping.

Green stink bugs swarm outside a business in St. George, Utah, July 2019 | Photo courtesy of TW Petersen, St. George News

The green stink bugs are just one of several pests that Shakespeare and his employees have been dealing with, he added.

“The false chinch bugs have been really bad this year, too,” he said. “They were real bad in the spring, and then they popped back up again about this last week. Then, we’ve had grasshoppers and then the gnats have been terrible.”

Shakespeare says in most cases, the best thing to do is simply wait out the pests until their natural cycle runs its course.

“It’s going to have to dry out more and then they’ll just disappear,” he said.

The false cinch bugs mentioned by Shakespeare have been seen in large numbers in parts of Southern Utah lately. Formally known as Nysius raphanus, they are small, slender grayish brown insects between 1/8 inch and 1/6 inch long. They may aggregate in large numbers on or in buildings, especially if nearby host plants are harvested or managed with herbicide. They rarely do serious damage to plants and are harmless to humans. The prevailing recommendation is to simply tolerate them during their short life span.

Hordes of flying grasshoppers have also been reported in Las Vegas, Mesquite, Pahrump and other parts of Southern Nevada, Fox 13 reports. Many have also been seen in the St. George area.

Heyborne said evidence suggests that insect proliferation events are becoming more commonplace throughout the globe.

“Truth be told, if you talk to other entomologists around the world, they’re seeing more and more of these sorts of outbreaks,” he said. “And so, there is some conversation about, is this related to climate change or not? We don’t really know the answer to that. But I guess time will tell.”

Resources

  • For a listing of Utah State University Extension Office fact sheets about various insects and plant pests, click here.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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