Expert tips for avoiding unwanted guests.
Credit: Sang An

Everyone loves a surprise under the Christmas tree. But a surprise in the Christmas tree? Not so much.

"If you have a live tree, there's always a chance that there may be bugs living in it," says Dr. Michael Skvarla, the director of insect identification at Penn State University's entomology department. "There are plenty of insects that either feed on pine trees or overwinter in evergreens."

The good news is that Christmas tree bugs are rare. And even if you do bring home some unexpected houseguests, they won't stick around. Unlike common household pests such as ants and cockroaches, the bugs living in your Christmas tree are ill-equipped to survive life indoors, where the air tends to be too warm and dry.

Furthermore, bugs that live in evergreens don't pose a threat to you or your home.

"These particular bugs aren't going to bite you or destroy structures," says Skvarla. "But even so, most people don't want bugs crawling out of the Christmas tree."

We'd have to agree. Here's what you should know if you'd like to avoid a nightmare before Christmas.

christmas tree with star ornament
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Common Christmas Tree Bugs

The majority of Christmas trees do not have bugs, assures Skvarla. However, there are some insects who have been known to hitchhike home.

Pine bark adelgids, aphids, psocids and scale insects are some of the most common little buggers that shack up in evergreen branches. These tiny insects will quickly die once the tree is brought indoors.

It's also possible that bark beetles have taken up residence in your tree's trunk. Although they bore into the wood of trees, they're not interested in your furniture or house, as this wood is too dry.

Sometimes, a tree will host praying mantis egg sacks. Once inside a warm house, the eggs may think it's spring and begin to hatch. Although a swarm of mini praying mantises may be alarming, there's no cause for concern-they'll quickly die (and may even eat each other).

Trees with nests may harbor bird mites and parasites, some of which can be harmful to humans. Before bringing your tree inside, remove any nests, charming as they may be.

While unlikely, it's possible that your tree has spiders. Tree-dwelling spiders aren't dangerous to humans or pets, assures Skvarla, and the tiny intruders will probably go unnoticed before dying off. Two of the most dangerous spiders in North America, the Black Widow and the Brown Recluse, don't live in trees. (That said, they do live in houses, so be careful when rummaging through the attic for your Christmas lights.)

snow frosted pine trees in the winter
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What to Look For

There are some easy steps you can take to prevent bringing pests home with your pine.

First, inspect the tree while still at the lot. If there are any bird nests, remove them.

Next, look for any white flocking on the branches and needles. This could be a sign of adelgids, which secrete waxy filaments. If you notice any light brown, walnut-sized masses, these are likely praying mantis egg sacs. Small holes in the trunk and very fine sawdust could be a sign of bark beetles.

Whether your tree shows signs of insects or not, it doesn't hurt to give it a good, hardy shake to scare off any potential pests.

"Many Christmas tree lots have shakers, which should do a pretty good job of getting rid of any bugs," says Skvarla. "Or just shake it yourself before you bring it inside."

How to Treat an Infestation

If you're one of the unlucky few who winds up with Christmas tree bugs, don't despair-most tree insects should die off quickly once moved indoors.

For insects in the tree, your best bet is to bring the tree back outside, says Skvarla. Newly hatched bugs will die in the cold, and a vigorous shake will eliminate others. If you notice insects collecting on the ceiling or window, remove them with a vacuum cleaner.

It's important to never use an aerosol pesticide on your tree. Insect sprays are highly flammable and generally shouldn't be used indoors, especially when the windows are closed.

If this is enough to send you running out to buy a fake tree, remember: It's unlikely that insects will crash your holiday party.

"A lot of people call me because they're worried bugs could come in with the tree," says Skvarla. "But no one has called to say they have bugs in their tree."


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