Talk about a war on Christmas: It's happening right now in southern Appalachia, and the aggressors are freckle-sized bugs with no natural predators. The balsam woolly adelgid, as the creature is known, is wreaking havoc on Canaan and Fraser firs, famed as Christmas trees. The onslaught is leaving trees bent, yellowing, and dotted with weird, waxy balls, the Washington Post reports. The pests, which arrived from Europe sometime before the start of the 20th century, "release a chemical in the trees that cause them to deform. When they suck in large numbers, they take nutrients from the trees and they ultimately die," says an entomologist.
The Canaan fir has suffered "a tremendous decline" in its natural home, and the Fraser fir is "in peril," experts tell the Post. The trees are, however, doing fine on farms, where pesticides can keep the adelgids away. Spraying isn't possible in nature, since it could kill a range of unintended victims. Further north, from Massachusetts to Maine and in Quebec and Ontario, the trees do better, since adelgids don't handle the cold well. One solution to the problem further south: Wait 100,000 years for the trees to develop their own defenses, as they likely did in Europe, the entomologist says.