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Tiny bugs wearing woolly coats seen in huge numbers around Kamloops, Okanagan

This is a photo of a woolly adelgid taken in Kamloops.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Alison Villeneuve
September 18, 2021 - 8:30 AM

If you are picking tiny, furry insects out of your hair and teeth this week, you are not alone.

Some Kamloops residents have been reporting huge amounts of pesky bugs flying around wearing what appears to be little woolly coats.

An avid gardener in Kamloops, Floriane Fleming, said they are called woolly aphids and confirmed she has seen more than the usual amount of them this year. 

"I've never seen them like this before," she said. "They are into the Virginia creeper and some flowers like hydrangeas and holly-hocks, but they don't seem to be causing any damage to my garden vegetables."

Murray B. Isman is a Dean Emeritus of Applied Biology at the University of British Columbia. 

He confirmed the critters are woolly aphids, more scientifically, balsam woolly adelgids, not true aphids, but aphid-like insects in a separate family.

"In the Fall, in response to decreasing daylength, the winged females disperse en masse to find sites on which to lay their eggs," Isman said. "Nymphs hatching from those eggs will overwinter in sheltered sites and will be the founders for generations starting next Spring."

Isman said the woolly adelgids do this every Fall, but he suspects that the populations of the insect reached very high levels this Summer as a result of the exceptionally warm and dry conditions, which would account for their huge presence at the moment.

"They can be very damaging to true fir trees, but fortunately are completely harmless to humans," he said. "With the heavy rains forecast for the next few days and cooler temperatures, I suspect they will largely disappear in the next couple of weeks." 

All woolly adelgids are female and they reproduce asexually. As they feed, they secrete waxy filaments that eventually cover their bodies. These filaments give them their “woolly” appearance. The woolly coat protects the insects and their eggs from predators.

Woolly adelgids sleep through the summer and are active when temperatures cool. 

The adelgid is a pest that destroys true firs in the Atlantic provinces, the NE and NW United States and SW British Columbia, and in recent years, has moved into wild forests and managed tree farms across southern B.C., according to the Province.

READ MORE: Backyard gardeners can act to help bee populations

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