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Lifestyles & Community

July 1, 2014

Barklice not a threat to trees

RICHMOND — Have you noticed a mass of small gray insects on your trees, all moving together as a group? Then you may have barklice!

This has been the summer of barklice in Kentucky. I have received an unprecedented amount of phone calls about this insect. At the UK insect lab in Lexington, specimens, descriptions and pictures of large groups of these insects have come in from across the state during the past three weeks.

Tight-knit groups of these small scavengers have been seen on trunks and limbs of maples, oaks, pines and other trees. Barklice do not harm trees and probably benefit the tree by eating accumulations of fungi, algae, dead bark and other materials. They do not feed on leaves or tunnel into bark. No control measures are needed.

Barklice are 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch long. They appear brown to gray and are soft-bodied insects with a distinctive pair of long, thin antennae. Adults have two pairs of wings that are held roof-like over the body. The immature stages are smaller and wingless.

Barklice spend the winter as eggs in bark crevices and become active in the spring. These gregarious insects cluster together in “herds” on the bark. The herd will move as a mass if disturbed and may scatter if startled but will soon regroup. Sometimes, they are called “tree cattle.”

Some barklice species produce silk webbing that may encase the trunk or limbs of trees and shrubs they inhabit. They apparently eat the silk as their numbers decline in the fall. The webbing probably gives them a humid, protected living space.

The reason for large numbers during some springs may be due to frequent rainfall that has created humid conditions that favor their survival.

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