Although Homecoming is just beginning, students recently noticed another swarming on campus.
Last week, pesky gnat-like creatures, called aphids, invaded Peoria as a part of their winter migration, but should have mostly passed through by now, said Dean Johnston, a naturalist at the Forest Park Nature Center.
“There were massive amounts,” said senior accounting major Jessica Buterbaugh. “These stupid gnats would always get into my eyes when walking to class. They bother me more than anything.”
Aphids, an invasive species from northern China, spend their summers sucking juice from soybean plants before they pass through Peoria and head south to spend the cooler months on buckthorn plants.
“They basically just annoy people,” Johnston said. “What they’re looking for is buckthorn plants, and you’re not a buckthorn plant. So you’re just in their way.”
Aphids migrate every year, but were more visible this year because of the region’s cool summer.
Central Illinois experienced its seventh coldest summer with average temperatures of 71.1 degrees, below the average 73.1 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.
“Because our summer was cool and damp they were numerous down here,” Johnston said. “We had very few 90-degree days, and that’s what allowed the populations to build up.”
The fall migration period is short, lasting a couple weeks at most. And aphids’ spring migration usually goes unnoticed, Johnston said.
“They’ll start to move back to the soybean plants in the spring, but I don’t think you’re going to see them in those numbers because there’s a lot more soybean plants than there are buckthorn plants,” he said. “Soybean plants are pretty vast so they’re going to be at their biggest numbers at the end of the summer.”
Johnston said there’s not much to do to avoid the creatures, but Buterbaugh said she had a few ideas.
“I was finding myself wondering if I should wear sunglasses or maybe a protective netting,” she said.