It turns out that Santa Claus, the Elf on the Shelf and the Reindeer in Here aren't the only ones who see you when you're sleeping and know when you're awake.
Also monitoring your activity from the safety of your freshly cut Christmas tree: several thousand bugs.
According to Safer Brand, an organic gardening and pest control company, there could be up to 25,000 insects and arachnids crawling around that Christmas tree. Aphids, spiders, mites, bark beetles and even praying mantises all could be your new (unwelcome) holiday guests. How festive!
Creepy crawly Christmas
While this may sound alarming on many levels, there's no reason to fear these insects.
Most of them are microscopic, so you're unlikely to notice them in the first place, according to Pennsylvanian State University's Department of Entomology's Cooperative Extension, and most of them are likely to stay on the tree anyway.
Most of them.
"Although many will stay on the tree, a few may be attracted to sources of light, including windows. But, because they are associated with field-grown conifers, none of these accidental introductions are a threat to your home, its contents or occupants," write Rayanne Lehman and James Stimmel, on behalf of the extension.
And they're not a threat to your homes because the bugs rely on the tree to survive.
But so you know who you unintentionally invited over the holidays, here are seven possible insects that might appear in your Christmas tree.
1. Aphids. These insects are tiny, and while some species of aphids resemble small spiders and ticks, they have only six legs. Most of the aphids are inactive, and they survive only by feasting on certain parts of the tree. This means any other plants in the house are safe.
2. Bark beetles. Despite their intimidating-sounding name, bark beetles are small insects that bore holes into trees. They may create small piles of sawdust. But if you're worried about your furniture, don't be. Your furniture is too dry for the bark beetles to survive inside of them.
3. Mites. Predatory mites stick to trees, eating other insects and eggs. While they're related to chiggers, adult mites aren't a threat to humans or pets. Mites are likely in the tree as a the result of birds nesting in the tree at one point. So while a nest may seem decorative, remove it from your tree to ensure no mites end up in your home.
4. Praying mantids. These are predatory insects, so they're likely controlling whatever pest population is in the tree. If eggs have been laid in the tree, and they hatch, your tree will soon be overrun with baby mantids. But fear not. The little bugs will eventually eat one another if they run out of food. If you'd rather not have an insect cannibal Christmas, check the tree for walnut-sized egg masses before taking it indoors. Cut off the branch the mass is attached to and place it in an evergreen shrub or tree so it can hatch in the spring.
5. Psocids. Colored brown or gray, psocids munch on mold, pollen, fungus, and other insects. You don't need to worry about these pests, though. They will likely die due to the warm conditions in your home.
6. Scale insects. If you notice tiny and moving red specks, these are scale insects. They can be shaken out of or knocked away from the tree very easily.
7. Spiders. These are probably the least-welcomed guests, but any spiders you find in your tree are aiming to nibble on insects, not on you. Like the psocids, these spiders are likely to die soon, due to the conditions in your home.
Keeping the bugs out
As the North Carolina Christmas Tree Association notes, it's extremely unlikely that a tree will have insects in numbers that you will notice, and the Christmas Tree Promotion Board concurs, pointing out that other experts feel that Safe Brand's concerns are "overblown."
If you'd rather be safe than sorry, though, there are a few steps you can take to minimize the risk of bringing bugs home for the holidays.
1. Shaking your tree. Mechanical tree shakers are available at some farms and lots. They just vibrate the bugs right out of your perfect tree. Alternatively, you can just shake the tree yourself, perhaps as a Festivus feat of strength.
2. Treat with insect sprays or powders. Before bringing the tree indoors and dressing it, you can use organic insect control.
3. Vacuum. Your vacuum has a hose attachment, yes? Take it to your tree and just suck up the insects.
4. Just let your tree (and the insects) be. Leaving the insects alone will result in them dying anyway. As Lehman and Stimmel write, "Warm temperatures, low humidities and lack of appropriate food conditions typical of most homes will usually kill these invaders in a short time."
So rest easy about insects crashing your holidays and enjoy your tree.