The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

September 21, 2013

Grass bugs plague northeast Oregon community

Associated Press
Associated Press

— ELGIN, Ore. (AP) — This time, crickets aren't the problem in the Cricket Flat area of Elgin.

The area got its name from a prevalence of the jumping, chirping insects in the 19th century. These days, the infestation pestering residents is grass bugs.

The Oregon State University Extension Office gets calls about grass bugs every year, but nothing like this summer. Extension agronomist Darrin Walenta said this year's population — in Cricket Flat and the region — has reached "plague-like numbers."

Walenta said the small bugs have no known predators in northeast Oregon, and they haven't been studied much because they're considered a nuisance — not an economic problem.

But don't tell residents such as Natalie Bustos that the insects are a mere annoyance. She checks her furniture for the bugs every half-hour, and dumps her vacuum three times a day. She lives with bears and bees, but can't deal with tens of thousands of these tiny insects that emit a smell that's been compared to Listerine and Pine-Sol.

"They get into my furniture. They love my pillows," Bustos told The (La Grande) Observer newspaper (http://is.gd/TrWFuG). "You can lose your mind."

Bustos said she has spent upward of $300 on various sprays and insecticides, and they don't really work. Bugs die when they are directly sprayed, but the residual effects vary.

Walenta said the insects, which are thought to host on grass as their name implies, appear this time of year and make their way into structures, where they hope to survive the winter so they can breed in spring. One of the best methods of protection against infestations is to seal doors and windows, but residents say even that doesn't seem to work.

"I've got a handle on killing them, but that's not really the right end of the problem," said Larry Hazard, who lives up the road from Bustos.

The swarms are worse on hot days with little wind.

Walenta visited Cricket Flat on Friday to collect evidence, hoping the scope of the problem would prompt more research.

"Right now we're looking at any and all possibilities," he said. "You've got to think outside the box."