Should I Be Concerned about Christmas Tree Bugs (And How Do I Get Rid of Them?)

Does Santa need bug spray?

A mother and her toddler point at a live Christmas tree.
Oscar Wong/Getty Images

We adore real Christmas trees because they’re gorgeous, fragrant, and a renewable resource that can be recycled. But when you bring a live tree indoors, are you bringing in anything else?

If you’ve always wondered (and we have!), yes, you may have some hitchhikers on your tree. “When you bring a living plant that’s 6 or more feet tall into your home, you also could bring in all kinds of insects,” says Eric Benson, PhD, professor and extension entomologist, Clemson University. “But insects that may come in on Christmas trees aren’t a big issue and are not some of the more serious pests, such as bedbugs.”

While the thought of creepy-crawlies amongst the tinsel and lights may freak you out, the truth is that Christmas tree bugs are nothing to fret about. “The bugs that come indoors on trees aren’t going to hurt you or your home,” says Benson. “Some types, such as aphids, are feeding on the tree itself and have piercing or sucking mouth parts, so they can’t even bite you or your pet.”

In fact, any bug that’s made it indoors isn’t going to last long. “Insects and other arthropods that are associated with live Christmas trees cannot survive indoors,” says Michael Skvarla, PhD, assistant research professor of arthropod identification, Penn State University. “Indoor spaces have too low a humidity during the winter, and there’s nothing for many groups to eat, so they either desiccate or starve. The insects associated with Christmas trees are annoying, but all of them die quickly and cannot infect indoor spaces.”

Here’s what else you should know about Christmas tree bugs:

What Kind of Bugs Are on Live Christmas Trees?

If present when you bring your tree indoors, bugs may stay on trees, or you might find them hanging out on walls, ceilings or windows and light sources such as table lamps. The types of bugs vary depending on where you live, but here are the most common Christmas tree bugs:

  • Cinara aphids: These are some of the largest aphids in North America, reaching up to 1/4-inch long. They cluster together and are black, grey or brown and pear-shaped with long legs so they’re often mistaken for ticks, says Benson. If they leave the tree, they will not infest your houseplants because this type of aphid only feeds on a single plant species--in this case, conifers, not houseplants.
  • Spotted lanternflies: These invasive insects, primarily found in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, overwinter as brown egg masses that look dried mud. They don’t feed on conifers but may lay eggs on a trunk or branch, says Skvarla. An egg mass indoors may hatch in a few weeks, but because the black and white-spotted nymphs can’t feed on a Christmas tree (they need soft, herbaceous plants), they’ll die due to starvation and low humidity.
  • Adelgids: Resembling white “flocking” on needles, twigs or bark, adelgids are tiny insects that feet on plant sap, secreting a wooly, white substance. They’re sedentary and don’t leave the tree, says Skvarla. The adelgids and flocking are harmless.
  • Praying mantis: You may have a mantis egg mass, which resembles root beer foam, attached to twigs and branches. After a few weeks of warmth, dozens of baby mantises may hatch. Because there’s nothing else to eat, they’ll eat each other, then die when the food runs out, says Benson.
  • Spiders: You occasionally may see an egg case, which is a tiny ball about 3/8 to ¼-inch in diameter, depending on the spider species. They may hatch, but baby spiders will soon die without any food, says Benson. Ditto for any adult spiders that rode indoors.

Can I Prevent Bringing in Bugs with My Live Christmas Tree?

Probably not. But at some tree lots, you can have the tree shaken, which should dislodge many of these bugs. “Larger things like mantis egg cases can be screened for by inspecting the tree,” says Skvarla. “Other insects are present as tiny eggs glued to the needles and twigs, so there’s no practical way to find and remove them.”

Although there’s no guarantee it will get rid of any hitchhikers, if you’re really motivated you can spray off the tree with the garden hose first, then let it dry before bringing indoors, says Benson.

How Do I Get Rid of Christmas Tree Bugs?

If you see anything tree that resembles an egg case—foamy brown residue of a praying mantis or little round egg sacs of a spider-- remove it, says Benson. If possible, clip off the piece of branch and place it outdoors in a protected spot, such as a shrub, because these bugs are actually good to have around. Both mantises and spiders eat tons of pests so they’re beneficial in your garden.

But if you suspect it’s a spotted lanternfly egg case, which looks like dried mud, you should destroy this non-native pest. Cut or scrape the egg case off the tree, seal in a plastic bag with some rubbing alcohol, and dispose of in the trash, says Skvarla.

For aphids, use a shop vacuum to suck them up; don’t squish them because they will leave a purple stain behind on surfaces, says Benson. You also can suck up any other intruders, such as spiders.

What you should never do? Spray the tree with pesticides. “These bugs are just going to die anyhow, and the cost and exposure risk to pesticide is not worth the small amount of time you’ll shave off having the insects in your house,” says Skvarla.

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Freelance Gardening Editor

Arricca Elin SanSone is a gardener with more than 15 years of experience. In addition to PureWow, she writes for Prevention, Country Living, Veranda, The Spruce and many other...