Beetles taking over West Texas

By Eric Butler

The small black beetles showing up in homes and businesses in West Texas adhere to the classic definition of pests.
The beetles, approximately one-quarter of an inch in size, haven’t caused any major damage but certainly are annoying, officials say.
“They’re a nuisance pest is what they are,” said Monti Vandiver, an extension agent in integrated pest management for Bailey and Parmer counties. “They’re just a very small black beetle that feeds on organic matter.
“Back early, their larval form was feeding on some of the crop roots and things like that. For the most part, even if they’re in the crop fields, they’re an incidental,” Vandiver said. “But we’re getting a slew of them trying to get into homes or industrial complexes.”
Vandiver believes this year’s intrusion of beetles to be the largest since 1990, although he doesn’t know with certainty that those bugs of 13 years ago were even of the same blapstinus species.
These beetles tend to act like ants when they approach a new haunt. Instead of coming in individually, the bugs enter like a military division — moving as a group in search of decaying wood or other types of fungi.
The fact that they enter as a group is most disconcerting, even if the damage inflicted is minimal.
“I’ve had housewives just jumping up-and-down mad,” Vandiver said. “So far as hurting anything in the home, they’re not going to do that, but nobody likes black bugs crawling around the house.”
“They’re around all the entryways and doorways. You just see them everywhere, though I don’t know that they’ve been into anything to bother us,” said Yolanda McFarland, who works at Bovina AGP Grain Cooperative. “We spray them with fly spray or whatever we can find. They’re like a bunch of flies — a nuisance, I guess.”
The beetles have been more than just a pain, though.
Officials at the Excel beef processing facility outside of Friona had to stop operations in early July to kill the intruders.
“We shut down for about 45 minutes to wash down in the slaughter area and eradicate them,” said Mark Klein, director of communications for Excel Corp. “Since then, they haven’t been a problem. Apparently, they were attracted by the light.”
The infestation appears to be confined to West Texas.
Vandiver said he’s only heard of a couple of instances where the pests have been sighted in eastern New Mexico.
As for the Panhandle, the bugs have been an obvious presence in an area as far as Plainview and Lubbock to the east and Muleshoe and Bovina to the west.
“It’s pretty widespread. For some reason, the environmental conditions really clicked for them — maybe back to last fall when we got so much moisture real late,” said Vandiver, who expects the beetles to be around through August.
“It’s not a situation where you can spray and prevent any of them from coming,” Vandiver said. “You can kill everything that’s there. But, when the next wave decides to march on in, they just march on in.”