Thursday, March 15, 2012

Mild Winter Means More Bugs

Servall Pest Control wants you to be prepared: 
With a string of 70-plus degree days this week, people are trading in their boots for sandals and retiring winter coats to closets.

But humans aren't the only ones eager to scurry out into the spring-like warmth.

After one of the mildest winters on record, mosquitoes, termites, ticks and even stink bugs are already making their moves, hatching and leaving hibernation earlier than usual.

Even houseflies and beneficial ladybugs are making their appearances sooner.

"Everything's out when it gets warm out," said April Johnson, a landscape and greenhouse expert at Rodale Institute in Maxatawny Township.

Insects are sensitive to daylight and are temperature-oriented, Johnson said, so as soon as the humidity and temperature are just right, bugs begin to start their spring festivities.

The warm winter also means that the bug populations will probably be bigger than usual.

Johnson said it typically takes two or three weeks of really cold weather, both days and nights, to knock down a population.

That cold span never hit this winter.

"Since I work in the organic world, when we don't have a good, hard winter, we typically have more bugs," she said.

Berks County Agricultural Coordinator Sheila Miller said the bugs never had to hunker down too hard to survive, thanks to the mild temperatures.

"They're ready to roll," she said.


The chance of a cold spell swooping in and wiping out the early arrivals is also pretty slim.

So far, this March in Berks is about 6 degrees above normal, according to the National Weather Service, with Tuesday's high of 78 degrees the warmest day so far for 2012.

This winter, which according to meteorologists consists of the months of December, January and February, was one of the warmest on record.

The average temperature of 37.6 degrees in Berks ranked fifth on the list of the 10 warmest winters produced by the weather service. The warmest winter on record came in 1931-32, when the average temperature was a balmy 40.1 degrees.

"Even if it got down into the teens, it wouldn't last long enough and (the bugs) could go hide in the vegetation," Johnson said. "We pretty much got what we got, unless we have another extreme change in weather quickly and for a long period of time."

Within the past week, Sean Hunter, termite division manager at Ehrlich Pest Control in Spring Township, said the company has seen a spike in calls for termite swarms in homes.

He said the calls are a bit earlier than usual, but not unheard of, especially with the high temperatures.

"They're just getting ready to come out and with the warm weather we had in the last two or three days, they went," Hunter said.

But the warmer temperatures are bringing out more than just pests.

Birds and other bug predators are also showing their faces earlier this year, so nature might end up balancing itself out.

Miller said she's seen plenty of robins and heard songbirds, all of which dine on insects, but has yet to see any frogs or bats out and about.

"There are lots of bluebirds around too and they love bugs for their nests of babies," Miller said.


Overall, the warm weather is a good sign for all types of bugs, good and bad, Johnson said, but maybe not the best for humans.

"We're the ones that tend to not adjust," Johnson said.

Karel Minor, executive director of the Humane Society of Berks County, encouraged pet owners to strap on the flea and tick collars as soon as possible.

"I know from my own experience in my yard, they were out already in February," Minor said of the pests.

Ticks, which are arachnids not insects, are also sensitive to temperature and are typically kept under control when the cold hits each winter.

But Minor said this winter wasn't enough to wipe them out.

"We're actually advising our adopters right now to start on the flea and tick prevention almost immediately," he said. "It's reasonable to expect some bugs coming fast and furious a lot earlier." While many pet owners are aware of the dangers of Lyme disease carried by deer ticks, Minor also warned of heart worm, which is spread by mosquitoes, another pest that's already rearing its head

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