August 1, 2020
“Nice Lice” clean the tree bark as they eat.

Mary Reid Barrow

 Lice had no redeeming quality that I was aware of until I saw a  photo on Virginia Beach Master Gardener Liz Costales’ Facebook page recently.

The photo, above, is of a huddle of  tiny winged bugs on a pear tree trunk in Costales’ yard.  They are so non-descript and camouflaged against the bark that  I had to look twice before I knew they were there. 

 Liz said she went over to the tree with a twig and touched the bugs to try to figure out what she was seeing.   The insects all scattered, but quickly gathered back up again in a mass when she stepped back, she said.

 Liz did a little research and learned her new yard guests were barklice.  The little insects sometimes are called “cattle lice” because of their herding behavior.  Not only do they regroup after being disturbed,  but they also move, as one,  like a herd of cattle.  See them on Costales’ video:

 Liz, not a lice lover,  went on to write an article for the Master Gardener newsletter  about these good lice she discovered.

 Barklice really don’t look like lice except that they are small and hard to see. They certainly aren’t parasites.

They group together and eat fungus, lichen, algae, bark, and plant debris,” Costales wrote,” but do not harm the trees on which they are found.”

 Quite the opposite, barklice are beneficial insects, cleaning the tree bark as they eat, she said.  They do make web homes on tree bark, which you might find unsightly, but, ever eager to maintain their reputation,  bark lice generally eat their webs at the end of the season too.

So if you find these little insects on your trees, don’t run for the Raid.  They are “Nice Lice,” as the North Carolina Forest Service called them in. recent article.

 Do you have a favorite tree, a secret tree grove or neighborhood climbing tree that you love?  Let me know your stories about trees,  the critters who live in them and the insects that dine on them.  Send an email to


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