Will Our Mild Winter mean More Insects this Summer

Community

By: Eddie Ayers, County Extension Agent

So far, the last two winters have been mild compared to ones in the past. Because of this I am getting a lot of calls, questions and comments about how bad the insects will be this year. My first reaction is to agree but when I think about the fact that insects have been around longer than humans, I felt I needed to do a little investigating. The person I turned to is Dr. Nancy Hinkle, an Entomologist and Professor in the Department of Entomology with the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, and she provided some good insight into what we can expect from insects this summer.

Insects are durable and adaptable. Winter never kills them all off, but there are differences in the number of insects that survive truly harsh winters (ones with long periods of freezing temperatures) and the ones that persist through mild winters. Here in Georgia we never have temperatures that are severe enough to have much impact on insect populations. Think about those warm days in any winter when insects are out and about despite snow a week earlier. They have hunkered down and waited out the cold, then emerged to enjoy the warmth when it returned. Some insects have antifreeze in their blood, which allows them to survive subfreezing temperatures with no damage.

As I wrote about the other week, boxelder bugs have already emerged and soon we will be seeing lady beetles and kudzu bugs and another that will be out soon that we really need to plan for is the mosquito. To help control mosquitos, you need to understand their life cycle. The female adult is the one that bites or stings and passes along diseases. The female adults lay eggs in standing water then the eggs hatch out into larvae in just 48 hours. You have probably seen them swimming in the water. This stage lasts 5-6 days and then they pupate. It only takes 2-3 days for them to then mature into adults and start the cycle all over again. Mosquito larvae can survive just fine under a sheet of ice covering their pool, so it’s time to start checking for containers that hold water around your property. Is there a bucket or tarp out there with a few cups of water in it? If so, dump it and put it where the next rain won’t fill it. Do the gutters on your house drain properly? If they hold water, mosquitoes will find it and lay eggs in the standing water. Female mosquitoes are already looking for a place to lay their eggs and you don’t want to encourage them around your house.

Most insects have the ability to seek out warm spots to spend cold nights, either under the bark of trees or in cracks around our homes. One good place to hide is the crawl space under buildings where temperatures almost never reach freezing. Another is culverts. Storm drains provide a cave-like habitat that protects insects from low temperatures (and also provide a cool retreat on sweltering summer days).

A milder winter probably allows a higher proportion of an insect population to survive, thus giving it a head start on building up numbers in the spring but by mid-summer there will not be a noticeable effect on insect populations; we’ll just have a lot of bugs as usual!

For more information, contact me in the Gilmer County UGA Extension office.

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