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col Asian beetle gets no respect as a pest

One of the most contentious columns I've written during the past couple of months had nothing to do with gas prices, taxes, politics or even local architecture.

It had to do with pestilence. A number of readers did not take kindly to my suggestion in a March 13 column that we're overreacting to the so-called Asian beetle infestation of 2004. I noted that the overabundance of beetles over the past few years doesn't even remotely compare to, say, the great Minnesota locust plague of 1873-77.

Reader Kelly Wallaker wrote that she was at wits' end trying to deal with the tiny orange and black creatures.

"For three years we lived south of Kasson in a restored home built in 1913. Anyways, we had a massive infestation of those bugs. You talk of dozens, we had thousands in our home, and that is no exaggeration. When they come in such large numbers they make a terrible mess. People with mush for brains say just vacuum them up. That is like me telling you to use your vacuum to clean the city streets."

Mary Harnack wanted me to know that Asian beetles "have literally changed the way we live out here in the country! I have failed to find a way to wash my windows. Working outside with any project, be it vaccinating cattle or working in the garden, is almost impossible. They do bite and not just occasionally as you mentioned but as often as they land on the skin. I do know of folks who have ended up in the ER because the welts are so large."

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"I know these terrible bugs don't do the damage like the locusts," wrote Richard Moen, "but if you don't know why people get upset about them, then you need to take a trip to the farm country, where soybeans are raised. The last three years they were terrible. Near Spring Grove, the last two years, for 15 days they were so bad that my eyeglasses were covered so I could not see to work. …; They would drop from the air or ceiling into your food, and your cup of coffee, and they pinch hard; they are not a lady bug. I hope this goes good with your morning coffee ..."

Boy, sounds like there is no more reviled creature in Minnesota these days -- unless you count the poor guy at the local gas station whose job it is to change the numbers on the per-gallon sign.

Despite all of the angry, frustrated testimonials, I still wasn't convinced the Asian beetle is as harmful as crop-chomping locusts and other crawly pests. So, I phoned Jeff Hahn, an entomologist for the University of Minnesota Ag Extension Service, who has become the state's leading authority on Asian beetles.

"They're really not much of a threat," said Hahn, who coincidentally was preparing for yet another talk on the pests when I contacted him last week. "If they bite or pinch it's incidental, not deliberate. But people are upset about them because there are a lot of them, and they get frustrated because it's out of their hands."

When it comes right down to it, Hahn said, Asian beetles are a big nuisance. But they don't cause crop damage, won't poison you if you accidentally eat one (don't laugh,

Hahn actually gets this question a lot) and won't carry away small pets or children.

Greg Sellnow's columns appear Tuesdays and Saturdays. He can be reached at 285-7703 or by e-mail at sellnow@postbulletin.com.

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