Larry Hazard, right, discusses his grass bug problems with agronomist Darrin Walenta Friday afternoon. Hazard and other residents in the Cricket Flat area are tired of spending money and dealing with swarms of grass bugs. The bugs are members of the genus Arhyssus and are distant relatives of the boxelder bug. (Kelly Ducote/The Observer)
Pests reach ‘plague-like numbers’
Don’t mention the word “nuisance” on Cricket Flat. Many Elgin-area residents say the annual arrival of grass bugs has reached a peak — and many people are fed up.
The Oregon State University Extension Office gets calls every year about grass bugs, small insects that infest the Cricket Flat area, but they’ve never had the volume of calls that they’ve had this summer.
Darrin Walenta, OSU Extension agronomist, said this year’s population of grass bugs has reached “plague-like numbers,” not just in the Cricket Flat area but throughout the county and region.
“They are able to infiltrate the most air-tight structures around,” Walenta said. “This is a very high-pressure year.”
Walenta said the situation is unfortunate because, for one, the bugs have no known predators in the region. But more generally, little is known about the grass bugs. Their biology and ecology have not been studied much because the bugs are not considered an economic problem. They are a “nuisance.”
“If you ask the people around Cricket Flat, they have taken nuisance pest to a whole new level,” Walenta said.
Resident Natalie Bustos said she spends most of her days cleaning up bugs.
“I live with bees. I live with bears,” she said. “You can’t live with tens of thousands of bugs.”
Every half hour Bustos finds herself checking her furniture for the bugs, which give off a strange but distinct odor. Walenta calls it a Listerine smell. Others say it’s similar to Pine-Sol.
“They get into my furniture. They love my pillows,” Bustos said. “You can lose your mind.”
Bustos said she dumps her vacuum three times a day.
Walenta said the grass bugs, which are thought to host on grass as their name implies, appear this time of year and make their way into structures. There they hope to survive the winter so they can breed when spring arrives.
One of the best methods of protection against infestations is to seal doors and windows, but even that doesn’t seem to work in the Cricket Flat region.
The Bustos’ basement, with one of the most secure doors in the home, still winds up with a layer of bugs in it every day.
“It’s all through the windows. It’s all through the doors,” Bustos said.
Larry Hazard, who lives just up the road, is at a loss.
“I’ve got a handle on killing them, but that’s not really the right end of the problem,” he said.
The grass bug swarms are worse on hot days with little wind. On Wednesday the bugs were so bad many people didn’t want to go outside.
“It’s kind of hard to describe. They fly into you and hit you,” Hazard said. “It’s hard to deal with the volume of the bugs.”
A shed behind the Hazard house is filled with the insects. The Hazards, like the Bustos family, spend a good portion of each day cleaning and have become experts at checking each other for bugs before walking in the house.
“It’s just perplexing,” Hazard said. “I’m hoping that maybe someday we can find a repellent or the source.”
That is why Walenta made a trip to visit some residents Friday. Collecting photos, the agronomist hopes that evidence of this terrible year can prompt more research on the bugs and help people
“Right now we’re looking at any and all possibilities,” Walenta said. “You’ve got to think outside the box.”
For now, residents are testing and experimenting with various sprays and insecticides, which is not a cheap solution. Bustos said she has spent upward of $300 on products, and none seem to work as effectively as she would like. Bugs seem to die when they are directly sprayed, but the residual effect is variable. More than that, she says the bugs are creating another economic problem.
“This is wrecking our real estate value out here,” Bustos said.
Those looking to sell feel the issue is so bad they need to disclose it. Others feel like they need to strip siding and eliminate the problem before putting property on the market.
Finding a solution, Walenta said, lies in doing research and finding out what the bugs are doing in the spring.
“I’m thinking we need to spend more time in the spring looking for these guys,” Walenta said.
Until then, residents are hoping cooler temperatures will provide a much-needed break from the bugs, which can sometimes be so thick that one cannot talk outside.
“It’ll be a total reprieve (this) week,” Bustos said.
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