Little bugs causing big commotion

Thousands of false chinch bugs cling to weeds Thursday at the edge of a wheat field on Curry Road D. The flea-sized pests favor mustard weeds, which grow in wheat fields. (CNJ staff phto: Sharna Johnson)

By Leslie Radford: CNJ Staff writer

Curry County is being invaded. Not by the Beatles but by a flea-sized bug that feeds on wheat fields.

The Curry County Extension Service office and area pest controllers have been flooded with calls the past two weeks wondering what to do about the swarms of a relatively harmless pest called false chinch bugs.

“I have been in this business for 53 years now and never have I received so many calls about one little bug,” said Jeanette Winfrey, who answers phones for a Clovis extermination company. “(Calls) began back in March or April and in the last three weeks have become overwhelming.”

Winfrey said she has probably answered more than 500 calls in from people asking what to do about the mind-boggling masses of the insect, which cover the sides of homes, lawns and vehicles in search of cooler spots, according to Curry County Extension Agent Stan Jones.

“I have received four to five phone calls a day for the last couple of weeks with people concerned about this bug,” he said. “They are coming out of the fields as wheat is being harvested looking for food.”

The chinch bug is not harmful to humans or animals and should either die-off in their normal life-cycle or move on to cooler areas in a couple of weeks, officials said.

The tiny pest is gray in color and generally feeds on various mustard weeds, which are commonly found wheat fields in early spring, Jones said.

Jones said the chinch bug will feed on gardens and other foliage, but lawn-lovers should not be worried as the bothersome bug prefers weeds. He said due to the unusually wet winter, weeds have become abundant in the area, causing the bug to reproduce more and therefore, overpopulating themselves.

Sam Sparks, co-owner of a Tucumcari-based extermination business, doesn’t recommend using chemicals to combat the bug as it is a waste of money and chemical.

“People can control the problem by hosing down the areas infested with the insect,” she said. “(The invasion) seems to be more prevalent on the west side of Clovis where wheat is currently being harvested.”

She said her company was dispatched to a home early Thursday morning with a complaint of thousands of tiny bugs invading a couple’s home— inside and out.

“People are calling us freaking out about the swarms of these bugs raiding their homes and lawns,” Sparks said.