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fire-ants.jpgIf 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 again.

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 entomology.

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 Hu.

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 weather."

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.

Kudzu Bugs Primed to Return

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.


Gary E. Mc Kenzie

2/18/2014 12:04 PM
Hi, My experience with ANTSl, not red ants is only of 2-3 years.  My lawn? had thousands of ant colonies.
 In 1993, my area, Kansas had floods that lasted many weeks.  When I was able to walk safely on the yard and examine the plants & soil, I could find no ant colonies.  This continued for another year or two.  Now I must add these ants had invaded both neighbors and my home.

Since the flood the ants have returned to my yard, but must be in sucfh low numbers, I have not seen them in my house.

My idea about a method to kill them, would be to put water from draining the water heater, directly on the colony.  Draining the tank is something that is advised to do several times a year to prevent calcium buildup.

This could be done either summer or winter, although I imagine winter would be more effective and far less dangerous to homeowner.  Water that wasted, drained into the street or sewer, could go down into the ant colony and wake them up at a disadvantageous time.

I've seen a TV program where molten metal was poured down an ant colony and then dug up to discover the construction of the thing.  At no time did I see ants on the soil, the killer or even after.  So what could it hurt to try water.  Cheaper thatn melting metal.