Hot bug summer: Tick, mosquito and spotted lanternfly outbreaks are making people crazy

Illustration by Alex Cochran for Yahoo News; photos: Getty Images
Illustration by Alex Cochran for Yahoo News; photos: Getty Images

Millions of Americans have been bugging out this summer over bugs — from spotted lanternflies across the Northeast and aphids in New York City to mosquitoes in Los Angeles.

Here’s an overview of the major insect infestations.


The annual peak in the number of the disease-carrying eight-legged critters is usually early July, and this year is shaping up to be especially intense.

“If it seems like tick seasons are getting longer and worse, that’s because they are. And if it seems like 2023 is the worst — or nearly the worst — in memory, that’s because it is,” Time magazine reported late last month. The magazine reported that more ticks are being found in the Northeast and Upper Midwest.

The blacklegged ticks that are prevalent in those regions are out in force this year because oak trees produced a large number of acorns in 2021, providing more food for mice and chipmunks, which, in turn, provide more food for ticks.

“Now those ticks are ready for their second blood meal,” the New York Times ominously noted last week.

Blacklegged tick
A blacklegged tick. (James Gathany and William L. Nicholson/Smith Collection/Gado/CDC via Getty Images) (Getty Images)

There also is a long-term trend towards wider tick prevalence due to climate change, as warmer springs and falls lead to longer tick seasons.

Blacklegged ticks — which have spread from the Northeast to 43 states — carry Lyme disease, which can cause debilitating symptoms such as severe headaches, facial palsy and arthritis.

“Diagnoses of Lyme disease — a bacterial infection spread by bites from blacklegged ticks or deer ticks — were 17% higher in the first week of June than they were a year earlier, according to data from athenahealth, a health care technology company,” CNN reported last Saturday.

Lyme is not the only disease ticks carry, nor is it the only tick-borne illness spiking this year. “Another illness that public health officials want people to be aware of for the 2023 tick season is babesiosis,” the “Today” show reported in June. “A March 2023 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that eight states in the Northeast are seeing increasing rates of the emerging illness. Babesiosis is spread by the deer tick and generally causes no symptoms but can be fatal 1% to 2% of the time.”

Spotted lanternflies

Spotted lanterfly nymphs
Spotted lanterfly nymphs in Leesport, Pa. (MediaNews Group via Getty Images)

The Northeast is also ground zero for a new infestation of polka-dotted bugs that feed on — and can kill —trees, including fruit trees, making them a serious threat to industries such as logging and agriculture.

Spotted lanternfly infestations are now present in every county in Delaware and New Jersey, 51 of New York state’s 67 counties, parts of Ohio, and much of Pennsylvania, according to a recent report in Axios. On Monday, the website Gothamist reported lanternflies “are ahead of schedule in New York” due to the climate change-induced decrease in cold nights. (New York City is also contending with swarms of aphids, an annoying but harmless small flying insect frequently mistaken for gnats, which scientists say is likely manifesting unusually early due to the area’s mild winter.)

The lanternfly is native to Asia and was first seen in the United States in 2014. It is now present along the Eastern Seaboard from Massachusetts to North Carolina.

“Lanternflies easily build to high numbers,” Frank Hale, a professor of horticultural crop entomology at the University of Tennessee, wrote in the Conversation in 2021.

Residents of cities such as New York and Philadelphia are being encouraged to squash any bugs they see.


A mosquito feeding on a human host
A mosquito feeding on a human host. (James Gathany and William L. Nicholson /Smith Collection/Gado/CDC via Getty Images)

The blood-sucking fly is a common summertime nuisance, but some parts of the country are experiencing especially bad mosquito seasons this year.

In Orange County, Calif., government-run mosquito traps are capturing three times the average number of mosquitoes, according to the Associated Press. The culprit? California’s heavy rainfall last winter.

The county is deploying drones to drop bacterial spore pellets that kill mosquito larvae.

The Saint Paul, Minn.-based Metropolitan Mosquito Control District has received a record number of calls and emails about mosquito activity. The organization said that’s because drought years of 2021 and 2022 left larvae unhatched and they’re coming out now that precipitation has rebounded.

Mosquito bites are usually nothing more than an annoyance, but they can carry serious diseases, especially in warmer climates. In recent years, dengue fever, the Zika virus and chikungunya have been detected in states and territories such as Florida, Hawaii, Texas and Puerto Rico, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC also confirmed last month that four people in Florida and one in Texas locally acquired malaria, the first time it has been spread in the United States since 2003.

To minimize your risk of mosquito-borne illness, the CDC recommends removing any standing water from your property and using insect repellant.