Betty Holt was napping at her Bountiful home when she woke suddenly because something was moving under her sleeve. "I felt a little tickle. It was driving me nuts," she said.
"I was hitting it . . . I thought of everything," like the possibility that a bee was crawling on her arm."But I was relieved it was a moth," she added.
That might have been the only time a moth was a welcome intruder during the infestation throughout much of central and northern Utah. The bothersome fluttering insects are everywhere from temples to garages.
If the family cat has taken to lunging at some small prey or staring fixedly at a wall, chances are she's transfixed by moths. Or if you must haul out of bed in the middle of the night to check on a tapping, batting sound, you may discover a moth has worked its way inside a light fixture on the ceiling.
"The moths are horrible," Betty Holt said.
"They're all over my house," said her mother-in-law, Melva Holt, who lives in central Salt Lake City. In the evening, she said, they come into her home, attracted by the lights.
Betty Holt said she kills about two a day, unless she skips a few days. Then she'll go on a moth hunt through the house and wipe out 10.
Melva Holt frequently kills five or six a day.
They aren't the only ones with moths. Ken Connaughton, spokesman for Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Corradini, said the Salt Lake City-County Building was sprayed a week or two ago to eradicate its moths.
In Logan, moths were so thick inside the LDS Temple that they were disturbing church sessions, said Jay Karren. Church officials called Karren, extension specialist in entomology at Utah State University, Logan, and asked what they should do.
He checked some specimens and there were at least two species, with army cutworms the more numerous. Karren gave church officials the same advice he has for homeowners:
"Put screens on their doors. Put screens on their windows . . . Caulk up those cracks and crevices" that moths use to squeeze in. Also, screen ventilation inlets.
Moths are former caterpillars, and this spring the state had a spectacular caterpillar population explosion.
"I had 10 or 15 counties call me about it," Karren said. "We had an outbreak of what they call the army cutworm. I would say it was quite unusual because we had complaints from all over the state."
The caterpillars grow in undisturbed rangeland and vacant lots. When the range dries in the spring, they move into agricultural areas. "And that's when I got the reports," he said.
"There will be enormous numbers of them, so it looks like the ground is moving. That's why they're called army worms, because they move in a mass, all going in the same direction.
"They eat anything in their path. They can get into an alfalfa field and really cut it down, do extensive damage."
Cutworms spin protective pupae and take a break inside. A month later, they turn into moths that fly through the countryside.
Moths aren't actually harmful, living only to mate and lay eggs. Some species don't even have moths, because they live only a week or 10 days. But they are a nuisance.
"I have a lot of people coming in, wanting to know what they can use for moths," said Steve West, manager of the garden section of the Fred Meyer's store at 455 S. 500 East. "Sold a lot of moth balls, different sprays that will kill them."
At the Western Garden Center at 3033 W. 3500 South, West Valley City, indoor insect foggers are selling briskly.
"I have a feeling it's going to get a lot worse," store manager Darren Hall said of the moth outbreak.
Moths "will get into your food storage and get into your cereal boxes," he said. "If you have wild bird seed mixes or rabbit pellets, they can cause a lot of damage. Once they start reproducing in there, boy, it's very difficult to get rid of them."
Hall said if people want to rid their homes of moths, they can use indoor insect spray. But they should be careful not to get the liquid on food, eating utensils or food packages.
Lots of mosquitoes
Blame it on El Nino!
Moths are unusually numerous in Utah, but so are mosquitoes. And the reason is the same: unusual weather.
"The long, cool, wet spring seems to have provided an ideal environment for them," said Richard N. Vineyard, zoology professor and entomology expert at Weber State University.
According to Utah State University's Jay Karren, among the few actions that people can take to lessen mosquito attacks are:
- Use repellents.
- If old cans and tires are in the yard "get the water out of them."
- If holes in trees have collected water, people can use a mild insecticide there.
- "If you're going to have a garden party, burn a citronella candle out in the yard."