What's bugging the experts in York County?


Each spring, hungry swarms of termites emerge from their winter lair in search of food, a mate and a new place to call home.

After the king meets and mates with its queen, they shed their wings to nosh and begin establishing a colony, sometimes inside homes.

The whole process can mean headaches for homeowners and a busy season for York County exterminators.

"I haven't seen a swarm like this in quite a while," said BJ Riley, owner of Red Lion-based and aptly named BJ Riley Pest Control.

He's not sure what caused termites to be so active this year, but it has been nearly eight years since he has had this volume of calls about exterminating the pests, Riley said.

New life: Termites typically swarm from March through May, and once the king and queen termites burrow into their new home, which is sometimes a wooden joist in a house, the queen becomes an egg-producing factory.

The queen will grow to about the size of a human thumb, Riley said, popping out eggs at a rate of about one every 15 seconds.

Though the queen breeds new life, she is relegated to the colony's royal chamber because she can't fit through the tunnel she created when she was her younger, smaller self.

Some of the newly hatched termites go about constructing new tunnels, further weakening that wood joist in a home.

"Sometimes you can grab the joist in your hands and there's nothing left," Riley said. "It just crumbles in your hands."

Other bugs: Termites aren't the only bugs keeping Riley's calendar full this time of year.

Carpenter ants also are active, he said.

And then there's the invasive insect: the dreaded stink bug.

Asian lady beetles — commonly called the lady bug — and boxelder bugs also are out and about, said Tim Abbey, an entomology expert at Penn State Extension.

They don't really harm anything, but squashing one on a surface such as a window ledge could stain the wood, he said.

Though their emergence was brought on by the warmer weather, those bugs haven't been far from humans throughout the winter.

Stink bugs, for example, likely hibernated in attics and other hard-to-reach places, Abbey said.

Even bugs that spend the winter outside were able to brave the cold.

"The winter had little or no effect on the insect," Abbey said.

Ticks, which can spread Lyme disease, also are very active this time of the year.

Abbey advised checking for ticks after walking through wooded areas and areas with high grass.

Mosquitoes: York County recently received a $113,160 state grant to control mosquitoes, which can spread the West Nile virus.

The money will be used to help cover the cost to survey and control mosquitoes.

Most people who become infected with the West Nile virus never show symptoms. Those who do suffer from fatigue, body aches and fever.

Spraying in the county will start about July, but residents can take a simple step now to help prevent the buzzing bugs from breeding.

"Take the covers off swimming pools," said Tom Smith, the county's West Nile Virus Program administrator.

Smith said water can collect on covers, providing mosquitoes with a breeding ground.

County officials will monitor areas where there is standing water, including at the construction project to improve the Mount Rose Avenue exit of Interstate 83.

"We try to do everything we can to be proactive," he said.

— Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com.