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Millions of moths bugging Utahns due to drought

Higher elevations hit hard; numbers likely to dwindle

SHARE Millions of moths bugging Utahns due to drought

Beware of the bugs.

Although falling short of the severity of the Mothman Prophecies, Utah residents, farmers and fruit growers are still seeing increased numbers of the winged invaders this year after another mild winter and multiple years of drought.

The situation is particularly unpleasant for higher-elevation residents, who are under assault from army cutworm moths, also known as miller's moths.

"There have been very severe infestations, particularly in southern and central Utah," said Diane Alston, Utah State extension entomologist. "Moths are flying in high numbers."

Alston attributed the large numbers of insects to the dry and warm Utah weather over the past few years.

"Dry weather is good for insects because moisture can kill them at various stages in their life cycles," she said.

And although the larvae, moths and other insects are likely to wreak most of their havoc on Utah farmers and fruit growers, they don't seem to be sparing anyone from their peskiness.

"Moths are a nuisance in their high numbers," Alston said. "They're not harmful, they're just basically a nuisance and can make a mess."

The army cutworm moths fly to high altitudes to spend their summers, so mountainside residents may experience more of this nuisance than valley residents.

Diana Hedlund of Salt Lake City's Avenues said she has noticed more moths than usual over the past week, since her daughter told her a large group of them flew into the family's garage.

"Yeah, I've seen a lot of moths," she said.

But afflicted Utahns can breathe a sigh of relief. The moth hordes should dwindle over the next few weeks, says Ed Bianco, state entomologist with the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food. Until then, Bianco recommends spraying around window screens and door jambs, where the moths are most likely to enter homes.

Alston said she doesn't recommend insecticide spray — "it's only minimally effective" — but said the best thing people can do to keep moth numbers down is avoid attracting them. Keep outdoor lights off, enter and exit homes in areas where moths aren't congregating, and make sure screens are hole-free.

Although insects are running rampant both in residential and agricultural areas, Bianco said Utah growers don't have too much to worry about.

"Most of those folks have excellent spray-control programs, so I think they'll be fine. What we're seeing right now is more of a nuisance pest than a big economic concern."

Alston agreed.

"It will be a tougher year (for fruit growers), because if you wait too long, you'll certainly have damage to the fruit very quickly," she said. "But if they're using effective insecticides, they should be able to do well."

The numbers may dwindle with bug-trapping and bug-spraying, but Alston said Utahns can expect to see more six-legged creatures than usual throughout the year.

"In general we're going to have a large insect year all the way around — lots of grasshoppers and Mormon crickets," she said. "It's just the cycle we've been in with these hot, dry years."

E-MAIL: achristensen@desnews.com