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Thursday, December 3, 2015

No matter how airtight and clean one’s house may be, the late fall sees many a Niagara County home invaded by all sorts of creepy crawlies, from lady bugs to boxelder bugs, a critter we discussed in this column last fall.

Another insect that has become increasingly abundant – and, therefore, more problematic - every fall is the rather ugly western conifer seed bug. I’m sure you’ve seen them in your home, especially if you have spruce or pine trees in your yard -- and they aren’t soon to be forgotten.

Western conifer seed bugs are relatively new to Niagara
County -- but very abundant. (PHOTO COURTESY
These large, unmistakable bugs are long (about three-quarters of an inch) and possess other oversized features like lengthy antennae and legs. When they fly, they expose an orange and black pattern on their abdomens and their powerful wings are audible in flight and might be even louder than those of a flying bumble bee.

Making their appearance even more unsettling is the fact that they look kind of like bloodsucking conenoses (kissing bugs) which are common throughout the South and are a transmitter of the horrible Chagas disease.

But seed bugs don’t suck blood or bite animals. They are interested in plants. They use their piercing, sucking mouthparts to feed on the sap of developing spruce or pine cones. If you have Norway spruces in your lawn, then you’ve got these bugs – Norways tend to produce lots of cones and big, juicy ones at that, prime foodstuff for the seed bugs.

As their name implies, western conifer seed bugs were originally from the West – California, Oregon and Nevada. But, as lumber, Christmas trees, pallets and firewood headed east, so did they, hitching a ride on shipments. They did not appear in New York State until the mid-1980s, but, despite being a relatively recent arrival, they are incredibly abundant in Niagara County.

You can attest to that if you’ve ever had them in your home. They come inside to escape the winter cold, choosing your friendly confines over the loose bark on your trees. Over the month of November I probably encountered a half-dozen of them climbing on our windows, stuck to the ceiling and even joining me for a morning shower. Insects usually don’t bother me, but these creatures sometimes give even me the heebie-jeebies – they show up when and where you least expect them.

Other homeowners throughout the area battle them in even greater numbers, sometimes in aggregations on the outside of their house or garage that rival even some of the boxelder bug swarms. With numbers that many, you’re guaranteed a bunch will enter your home.

Why is it that when there’s one there’s many? Seed bugs have some powerful pheromones that humans can’t smell that will “call in” seed bugs from miles away. So, if they’ve made a good home for themselves they will ensure that others do too.

One thing that we can smell is the stench that comes from scent glands located on their legs. If you squish a seed bug (which is what most people do when they see them) you will be subjected to an unmistakable smell. It’s not as strong or rotten as a flattened stink bug, but it is shall we say, unique.

There’s really no time-tested way to control seed bug populations. Exterminators and the like will tell you to caulk gaps, replace torn screens, etc. to keep them from entering your abode.

So, it really comes down to old-fashioned pesticide-free pest control: If you see them, smush them.

+Bob Confer lives in rural Gasport where he is unrelated to conifer seed bugs -- they have an “i” in their name. Follow him on Twitter @bobconfer or email him at

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