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Thursday, Sept. 24, 2009 01:29 pm

GNAT IN MY BACKYARD

OK, so they’re not gnats — but the soybean aphids that are infiltrating Springfield sure are little pests.

The itty-bitty flying insects build up in high numbers on soybeans — as many as 250 per plant — in the summer. They migrate to buckthorn, a small, thorny shrub that serves as their winter hideaway, in early fall. Phil Nixon, the extension entomologist with the University of Illinois, says the bugs started appearing heavily last Thursday and should only be buzzing around for another week.

“This is kind of like snowbirds going to Florida,” Nixon says, “but they’re not going that far.”

Soybean aphids have never before been this dense in central Illinois. Nixon attributes their invasion to the summer’s cooler-than-normal temperatures and updrafts that have carried them down from Canada. In fact, these bugs cause quite a ruckus up north — in 2001, a major league baseball game between the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles was suspended because the aphids were so thick that players couldn’t see the ball.
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