The state of Idaho has been inundated by an invasive species, the elm seed bug — and by calls from across the country from people afflicted by the foreign insects.
It all started a few weeks ago when locals noticed a particularly pesky bug crawling around.
“At first there were just a few here and there,” said Idaho resident and employee of the state’s Department of Agriculture, Stephen Cox. “I just assumed they were like the other box elder bugs in the area. I didn’t think much about it.”
But then, by the hundreds, the bugs began infiltrating Cox’s home.
“The numbers were getting bigger and bigger and then we had a heat wave. It was about 105 degrees and they decided to move into the house,” Cox said. “Hundreds and hundreds at a time and then thousands.”
What started out as a nuisance became what Cox describes as “a real problem.”
“I’d vacuum them up but they were on every door, every wall. The windows were covered,” he said. “They’d drop on your head every time you opened the door. They’d fall onto your plate in the middle of dinner.”
Other residents took notice too. Idaho State Department of Agriculture researchers determined that the bug wasn’t the box elder bug, which is common in the area.
“We got official confirmation on July 12 that the bugs are elm seed bugs,” said Pamm Juker, communications director for the Idaho State Department of Agriculture. “They come from central and southern Europe. We don’t have any idea how they got to Idaho at this point.”
Juker says the invasive insect is about a quarter inch long and brown, resembling the box elder bug in shape. If crushed, they emit an odor.
She also says that while the bugs are a nuisance, they are not harmful. They do eat the seeds from trees but not plants or the trees themselves.
“They may try to enter your home in the summer when it’s hot and in the winter to escape the cold, but they pose no threat to humans,” she said.
The Idaho Department of Agriculture has been overwhelmed by calls from people from all over the country claiming they have seen the bug.
“Just in the last few days, we’ve gotten calls from people in South Carolina, West Virginia, Illinois, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Montana, Nevada, Connecticut, California, Michigan, Washington, and Oregon,” she said.
Cox said that if you see an elm seed bug in your area, contact your local officials.