Pests — Tiny white bugs are an aphid-like species from Europe, entomologists say

They’re everywhere.

Tiny white insects have taken over the area over the past few months, leaving residents scratching their heads over what they are, where they came from and what, if anything, can be done about them.

PHOTO COURTESY OF OSU - Pests -- Ash whiteflies have been spotted across northwest Oregon. The bugs are a nuisance, but experts say there's little than can be done about them at the moment.Ash whiteflies, officially known as siphoninus phillyreae, have exploded in numbers this year, with millions of the tiny nuisances spotted across the area.

Robin Rosetta, an Oregon State University associate professor and entomologist, works with nurseries and greenhouses on pest management. She said that the tiny insects were first discovered in Oregon last year, but have greatly increased in numbers this year.

“Aren’t they incredible?” she joked recently. “They’re everywhere. They are very abundant.”

Rosetta, who lives in Tigard, said that she has seen large populations across southwest Washington.

“They are down in parts of Woodburn and Salem for sure,” she said. “It’s spotty, still. Not everybody has a population yet.”

Originally from Europe, the species was spotted in California in the late 1980s and has slowly become more common across the country, she said.

It’s not clear why the invasive species has bred so rapidly this year, but Rosetta said it is likely a combination of factors.

“Often when a new species comes in, they don’t have natural enemies keeping them in check,” she said. “That’s what we’re seeing. Things are not in balance. They have probably been here longer and nobody noticed them. We had some nice warm weather the last few years which likely let them build up to the numbers we’re seeing.”

An individual bug lives about 30 days and lays eggs on the undersides of leaves.

Although called flies, the bugs are more closely related to aphids and suck nutrients from plants.

The ash whitefly has a wide range of plants it calls home, including ornamental and native plants as well as fruit trees. Favorites seem to include Oregon ash, ornamental pear, hawthorn and flowering quince, though Rosetta said that list will likely grow larger as the creatures are better studied.

Unfortunately, Rosetta said, little is known about what impact the bugs will have in Oregon.

As for getting rid of the pesky bugs, there isn’t much that can be done. Rosetta said that she isn’t recommending that landscapers use spray chemicals to kill the bugs.

“(It would be) kind of futile at this point,” she said. “Likely (the plants would) be re-infested within a week or two.”

She said that the population will subside as the weather gets colder.

“We expect a good freeze to knock them down below noticeable levels but not eradicate them,” she said, though she cautions that the numbers could return next year. “That might happen. We’ll know more next spring. (Our) best hope in the long run is for a biological control program with a tiny, microscopic wasp that should manage them below notice. Until then, I counsel patience.”

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