Bark Lice on Crepe Myrtle: Understanding Tree Cattle Bugs

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The crepe myrtle trees are a beloved feature in many landscapes, thanks to their vibrant flowers and distinctive branches. Just like any other tree, they may also attract insects, such as bark lice, to take up residence.

While the name might sound alarming, bark lice, or “tree cattle,” are fascinating creatures that play a unique role in our ecosystem.

Bark lice are not harmful to trees. They are beneficial insects that clean trees by feeding on algae, fungi, and dead plant material on the bark. Therefore, there’s usually no need to get rid of bark lice. However, if you wish to control them, a gentle spray of water can dislodge them from the tree.

If you’ve spotted some tiny, fast-moving insects on your crepe myrtle and are wondering what they are and what they’re doing, read on for more interesting facts about these helpful little bugs.

Key Takeaways

  • Bark lice are beneficial insects that feed on organic material on tree bark, effectively cleaning it.
  • They are not harmful to trees, including crepe myrtles, and do not cause physical damage.
  • Bark lice populations can be controlled by promoting a healthy environment for the tree, encouraging natural predators, and using insecticides as a last resort.
  • Bark lice populations often fluctuate with the seasons and available food sources.

While bark lice are not a problem, crepe myrtles can be harmed by other issues. I explain the most common problems in my article, Crepe Myrtle Diseases and Pests.

Understanding Bark Lice

Bark lice, often referred to as “tree cattle,” are small insects that belong to the Psocoptera order. They are commonly found on the bark of trees where they feed on organic material.

What Are Bark Lice?

Bark lice are small, usually less than 1/4 inch long, with a soft body and a distinctive head shape.

They are fast runners and move as a herd, which is why they’ve earned the nickname “tree cattle.” They are usually gray or brown, allowing them to blend in with the tree bark.

Life Cycle and Behavior of Bark Lice

Bark lice go through a simple metamorphosis with stages including the egg, nymph, and adult.

They are social insects, often found in large groups, and can form silk webbing on the tree bark under which they live and feed.

Ecological Significance of Bark Lice in the Ecosystem

Bark lice play a crucial role in the ecosystem by helping to break down organic material, contributing to the nutrient cycle.

They feed on algae, lichens, fungi, and dead plant material, effectively cleaning the tree bark.

Bark Lice and Crepe Myrtle Trees

Crepe myrtle trees can be a habitat for bark lice. However, their presence should not be a cause for concern.

Bark Lice Feeding Habits

Bark lice feed on the organic material found on tree bark. They do not harm the tree but instead clean the bark by consuming algae, fungi, and dead plant material.

Bark Lice Impact on Tree Health

Despite their somewhat alarming name, bark lice do not harm trees. In fact, by feeding on and removing organic material from the bark, they help to maintain the tree’s health.

Signs of Bark Lice Infestations

Signs of bark lice include the presence of small, fast-moving insects on the tree bark and the formation of silk webbing under which these insects live and feed.

Differentiating Bark Lice from Other Pests

Bark lice can be differentiated from other pests by their feeding and movement habits and the silk webbing they form.

Unlike many pests, they do not cause visible damage to the tree or leave behind harmful residues.

Impact of Bark Lice on Crepe Myrtle Trees

While the presence of bark lice on crepe myrtle trees might initially be concerning, it’s important to remember that these insects are not harmful.

They do not feed on the tree itself or cause physical damage. Instead, they consume organic material on the tree’s surface, effectively cleaning the bark and contributing to the tree’s overall health.

An up-close look at a single bark louse on a tree trunk.

Management Strategies for Bark Lice

Given that bark lice are beneficial insects, management strategies are usually not necessary. However, if their population becomes too large, there are ways to control them.

Promoting a Healthy Growing Environment for Crepe Myrtles

Maintaining a healthy environment for your crepe myrtle is the best way to ensure its overall health and resilience.

Regular watering, proper fertilization, and annual pruning can help keep your tree strong and less susceptible to various pests and diseases.

Natural Enemies and Biological Control of Bark Lice

Bark lice have natural enemies, such as birds and predatory insects, which can help control their population.

Encouraging these natural predators in your garden can be an effective biological control method.


While insecticides can be used to control bark lice, they are usually not recommended because bark lice are beneficial insects.

If you choose to use an insecticide, it’s important to select one that is safe for the environment and non-target species.

Related Questions:

Are Bark Lice Harmful to Trees?

No, bark lice are not harmful to trees. They feed on organic material on the tree’s surface and do not cause physical damage to the tree.

Do Bark Lice Go Away on Their Own?

Yes, bark lice populations often fluctuate with the seasons and available food sources. They can decrease in number or move on to other trees when the food source on a particular tree is depleted.

Final Thoughts

Bark lice, or “tree cattle,” are fascinating creatures that play an important role in our ecosystem.

While their presence on your crepe myrtle might be surprising, remember that these tiny cleaners are there to help, not harm.

So next time you spot them, take a moment to appreciate their role in maintaining the health of your tree.

Crepe Myrtle trees are commonly susceptible to pests and diseases. Here are some other points of interest to keep an eye on: