Early Spring Means Bugs — Lots Of Bugs

There seem to be a lot of bugs in certain parts of the country this spring. Richmond, Virginia reports an unusual amount of cankerworms this spring; Iowa experienced surprisingly thick swarms of fungus gnats about two weeks ago; and then there's the increasing issue of stinkbugs in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic. Robert Siegel and Audie Cornish talk about what people are seeing, and what experts think is going on.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And about those bugs, the bugs bats and birds like to eat, there seem to be a lot of them emerging right now.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In Richmond, Virginia, a warmer-than-usual spring has led to an outbreak of small, but very hungry, cankerworm caterpillars. They dine on maple and oak leaves. And when they're done, they drop from silken strands in a search for even more food. This year, the caterpillars are not only early, they're everywhere.

JIM SCHROERING: I can't walk outside. I'm covered with these very sticky spider-web-looking things. People call and say they're covering their porches. They're covering their decks. They're covering the sides and eves of their houses.

SIEGEL: That's Jim Schroering, extension agent for Hanover County, Virginia, recapping some of the typical complaints that he's heard the last few weeks. He says there's not much that can be done about the caterpillar boom. Those excessive caterpillars will either run out of food or get gobbled up by even hungrier songbirds.

CORNISH: In Iowa and the upper Midwest, unusually thick swarms of fungus gnats have gotten people's attention. Entomologist Donald Lewis of Iowa State University says the little black-bodied, white-winged bugs have been clustered in groups of tens of thousands, on compost piles or clinging to grocery store windows.

DONALD LEWIS: People may inhale them. They may get in your eyes. Mostly, they just create a concern because there's so many of them.

SIEGEL: Lewis says it's normal to have a few gnats year round. Just not a whole summer's worth in one week. He says the population spike now seems to be on the decline and he offers this advice.

LEWIS: Enjoy this. This is different. This is something unique. This is something we have not seen before. Isn't it great?

SIEGEL: Maybe for some.

MICHAEL RAUPP: Yeah. Well, the stink bugs are on the march.

CORNISH: That's Michael Raupp, entomologist at the University of Maryland College Park. He says conditions this year are very similar to two years ago when the brown marmorated stink bug population exploded in the northeast and mid-Atlantic. Their numbers are noticeable because stink bugs like to winter in people's homes, where they make bad houseguests.

RAUPP: When you're trying to read in the evening or you've got your computer on, there's a stink bug crawling across the screen. And the first thing when you get up in the morning, you're taking your shower, a stink bug may drop off the ceiling and join you.

SIEGEL: There's another problem with stink bugs. It's the reason we call them stink bugs.

RAUPP: Let's face it, they stink. I mean, you try to pick them up, they stink. You squash them, they stink. You look at them cross-eyed, they stink.

SIEGEL: Raupp says, given the life cycle of a stink bug, they need to chow down, mature, then mate, a population boom won't be evident until mid-summer.

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CORNISH: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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