The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

September 20, 2013

So, just what are those pesky white bugs? Asian woolly hackberry


TARBORO — White insects swarmed around the Tarboro High School JROTC cadets while they were attending the Sept. 9 annual Memorial Flag Raising service at the Veteran Memorial on the Tarboro Town Common. The cadets fanned the pesky bugs away until they found solace. A couple minutes later, spectators attending the service were searching for relief from those same insects.

That scenario has been a norm in Edgecombe County this summer. The pesky little white fluffy insects, known as Asian woolly hackberry, have invaded a great majority of Edgecombe County.

Asian woolly hackberry has the appearance of pieces of cotton and feeds mainly off hackberry trees, said Edgecombe County Extension Director Art Bradley. This summer, which produced a mild climate, was conducive for the pesky insect population growth. Over the past few weeks the visibility of the insects has not been as prevalent due to cooler temperatures. However, they survived throughout the entire year.

And etymology told Bradley that this year's population in Edgecombe County was the first in North Carolina that he is aware of. Bradley said this was the first time that he has seen the insects also.

The extension office has entertained questions about the bugs but no complaints have been filed.

"We've gotten some calls from people who wanted to know what they are," Bradley said. "They are very interesting insects. They are not harmful to plants and trees and they do not carry diseases."

One of the first signs of an infested area can be seen on hackberry trees. The insects produce a sticky honeydew substance on the leaves of the trees. That substance drops and causes that area to be black and sticky. Bradley explained the droppings could create problems for porch decks and cars.

Bradley said there is no way that he could tell whether the Asian woolly hackberry will become a mainstay in Edgecombe County or not. He reiterated they are a nuisance and they will not cause any harm.

Tarboro High School JROTC instructor Sgt. Steve Alderman can attest to that.

"They were everywhere," Alderman said recalling the Sept. 9 Flag Raising service. "It seems like they was around one of the guys more than other. Every time I looked around he was swatting. But I can say, when it was time for them to perform they did not move. They kept everything professional despite the bugs. I'm glad that they restrained."