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Wet weather contributes to bug boom in El Paso County

Published On: Aug 01 2014 10:22:59 PM CDT

Insect populations have increased this summer, partly because of wet weather and partly because of the availability of a certain food source.

EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. -

For different reasons, this summer has produced greater numbers of certain insects in parts of El Paso County.

One bug is targeting ponderosa pine trees in Peyton and Calhan.  Residents say the pine sawfly in its larval stage is stripping trees bare.

Saundra Larsen said she'd never heard of the sawfly until she saw trees turning brown and saw they were covered in what appeared to be tiny caterpillars.

"I just can't imagine this area if all the trees die," she said.  "It'd be like Black Forest (after the 2013 wildfire) when you drive through and there's nothing there."

Unfortunately, it may be too late to save many infected trees.  Experts said spring is the best time to spray the larvae with insecticide, when the fly's eggs are hatching.  By fall, the larvae will emerge from cocoons as adults and lay eggs in fallen pine needles.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," Larsen said.  "One of the websites said the best way to handle it, is to hand-pick (larvae) off the trees. There's no way I'm going to do that."

The Colorado State Forest Service recommends spraying the insecticides malathion, Orthene, Sevin and Astro on tree branches while larvae are feeding.  Spraying the insecticides directly on the larvae won't work, the service said.

"We've fielded five calls in the last two weeks," said Michael Till, a state forester.  "Typically, we receive two to three calls in a given year regarding this insect.  This year's activity has increased slightly in comparison to the last five years."

The service has declared the sawfly's status as "epidemic" south of Denver, particularly around Elbert in Elbert County, and appears to be spreading west into Douglas County.

It's unclear what is causing the sawfly increase, the service said.

Meanwhile, Fountain is reporting a spike in the mosquito population.  The town is the only municipality in El Paso County that sprays neighborhoods for mosquitoes. 

Jim Watson of Fountain Mosquito Control said the area's many retention ponds and ditches, along with the rainy summer weather, are contributing to the increase.

"You can't really go outside any time of the day or evening and not get attacked by mosquitoes," he said.  "We do what we can.  Spraying helps reduce the risk of West Nile virus.  We have a limited budget, so we can't spray more often than we already do."

Some residents express concern about the spraying and the possibility of chemicals harming people and the environment.  But Watson said spraying is done before dawn when few people are outside, and he uses a water-based chemical that easily washes away after a rain and doesn't linger.

"People can help," he said.  "Drain pools of standing water on your property where mosquitoes breed."

Other municipalities in the county rely on controlling mosquitoes in their larval stage before they become adults and begin seeking blood meals and laying eggs.

David Wilson, a retired Fountain resident, said he hasn't noticed an increase in mosquito activity, possibly because he has two electronic bug zappers in his yard.

But at one point Friday, he slapped the back of his neck.

"I think one (mosquito) still got me," he said.

James Whidden, owner of Mug-a-Bug Pest Control in Colorado Springs, said other insects are seeking drier ground during wet weather.

"Earwigs, millipedes and centipedes are showing up in and around homes," he said.  "Generally they're no threat to people but they look scary.  This summer isn't the worst ever, but when it's over it could be the worst we've seen in the past three years.  Things should improve once the ran stops and we dry out a bit."

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