If you think as a result of this recent frigid weather that pesky
insects can be marked off your list of irritants this spring and summer, think
One expert stresses that insects are more than a match for
Mother Nature, even when she strikes with unusual vengeance, as she did recently
with the unusually prolonged stretches of cold weather in the Deep South.
"Some crops, fruit trees and even livestock animals may fall
prey to cold weather, but insects can survive even record cold," says Dr. XingPing Hu, an Alabama Extension entomologist and Auburn University professor of
As the saying goes, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger
—a maxim that can be aptly applied to insects in the winter time, according to
Insects Are Highly Adaptive
We have evolution partly to thank for it, she says.
"Insects have been around for ages and have survived a wide
range of weather conditions," Hu says. "They have evolved strategies for
surviving even in the coldest temperatures either by entering diapause —ceasing
to feed, grow or reproduce —by hibernating in protected sites, or by burrowing deep
down into highly protective sites, such as leaf litter or the ground," she
says, adding that some insects also find shelter in hollow logs.
Over time, some species simply develop increased freeze
tolerance or resistance.
Mosquitoes Provide a Cautionary Tale
Alaska and Minnesota, two states known for brutal winters,
are a testimony to the adaptive ability of insects, according to Hu.
"We should remember that both states are also known for
their active mosquito populations during the summer," she says. "In fact, mosquitoes are far more susceptible
to lack of spring rainfall than they are to prolonged and unusually cold
Aside from that, the Deep South cold snaps have neither been
cold enough nor lasted long enough to make any appreciable dent in insect
populations, whether these happen to be introduced species such as fire ants
and kudzu bugs or native or adapted ones, such as roaches fleas and mosquitoes,
according to Hu.
"Fire ants need two weeks of temps below 10 degrees
Fahrenheit to have any effect on the number of ant colonies," she says. For another major southern pest, termites,
extremely prolonged and frigid weather typically isn't an issue at all. Termites manage to avoid freezes entirely by
burrowing into the ground.
The news gets no better with a recent interloper, Hu
says. Kudzu bugs, which have left a
lasting impression throughout the Southeast within the last few years, will
also prove resilient, according to Hu. In
fact, field testing she has undertaken of kudzu bugs in recent weeks revealed
no difference in survival rates between last winter and the current one.
Simply put, if all this cold weather has left you anticipating
fewer ant bites in your backyard this summer or fewer mosquitoes to spoil summertime
grilling, you may be in for some disappointment, Hu advises.
"Most insects have a breaking
point, but cold weather typically isn't one of them," she says.
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