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Bumper crop of bugs on the way

By Mike Elswick
April 2, 2012 at 11 p.m.

An extra-mild winter is leading to an early spring bumper crop of bugs.

Pat Johnston, who with her husband owns and operates Bugmasters in Longview, said 2012 has become one of the busiest years in the company's 30-year history.

"We're getting lots of calls for fleas and mosquitos, and spiders are very prevalent too," she said Monday. "And we had calls of termites swarming the first week of March - that's really early for them - and we're still getting calls."

Johnston said homeowners can help themselves out with some simple non-poison prevention measures.

"For the long run, prevention is more important than spraying," she said.

Simple steps to keep the bugs at bay include keeping leaves away from a home's foundation and cutting back shrubs and trees so they are not too close to exterior walls. That removes one common route for insects to enter a home.

"Spiders are one of the hardest insects to control because they don't have nerves in their appendages," she said. "In order to kill them with spray, their abdomen has to come in contact with the spray.

"A lot of times customers don't understand why the spiders don't go away when they spray," Johnston said.

To help knock down the spider population, she said, there are sprays available that keep spiders from building webs on the outside of homes.

Raul Martinez, owner of Outdoor Power Equipment on Gum Springs Road, said he was recently spraying for bores that had gotten into his peach trees.

"I've lost one already," he said of the infested trees. Martinez said he also thinks he has lost as many as 40 other trees on his acreage.

"I've got oaks, pines and even hickory trees, which are usually pretty hardy, that I'm losing," he said. "I think its a combination of the drought, that made them more susceptible to bugs, and the lack of cold weather that's giving us a good crop of bugs."

Betty Horaney, with downtown Longview's Horaney's Inc., said the store's staff has been busy filling customer requests for help controlling the insect population.

"We had the mild winter, then got the heat and rains and bugs have been really busy," Horaney said. Grub worms, fleas, mosquitos and ticks are among the most widely targeted bugs by those frequenting Horaney's store.

"We urge people to get ahead of the fleas early," she said. "If they don't, they're going to really have a problem later on - one flea can hatch as many as 2,000 eggs in a week."

Herb Soape, Gregg County Extension Agent, said homeowners could be in for a tough lawn maintenance year.

"We could see true devastation of forage and lawns by army worms," Soape said. "A really hard freeze will kill out the young insects - but we never had that hard freeze this winter."

Soape said if this summer has a long dry spell like East Texas suffered in 2011, there could be even more buggy predators hungry for any plants left living.

"We could have an even bigger problem with a bumper crop of grasshoppers when it turns dry," he said.

The National Weather Service reported the coldest days of this past East Texas winter were only down into the mid 20-degree range - and those were short-lived.

Winters are usually what one agriculture specialist calls a "reset button" that gives farmers a fresh start come planting season.



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