Monday, April 9, 2012

Don’t Bug Out Over Warmer Weather, Entomologists Warn

This year’s mild winter and early spring have prompted many media reports that insect populations are certain to increase in unprecedented numbers this year. However, leaders of the Entomological Society of America (ESA) say there are many other things that contribute to insect activity, including rainfall, humidity, predator populations, and other factors.

For example, mosquitoes require standing water for their eggs to hatch and for their larvae to develop.

“The warm weather has brought mosquitoes out earlier this year,” said ESA President Grayson Brown. “But that does not necessarily mean that mosquito numbers will be higher this summer. For that, we’ll need rain, so regions that remain dry will probably experience mosquito numbers that are similar to previous years.”

In addition, the unusually mild winter may not affect mosquitoes at all, since they are known to thrive in regions which can be extremely cold.

“States like Alaska and Minnesota are famous for their brutally cold winters,” said Dr. Brown, “and yet they are also known to have extremely active mosquito populations during the summer.”

“The warm winter is likely to increase tick-related problems this year,” said Brown. “People living in areas with tick-borne diseases, like Lyme Disease, should be extra careful this year, especially through the spring season.”

Insects that are considered to be agricultural pests may also be spurred by the early spring weather, but their numbers will be affected by many other things as well, such as the planting dates of crops and availability of other plants as food sources.

“Mild winters do not automatically mean greater insect problems,” said ESA Vice President Robert Wiedenmann. “Some insects that emerge earlier than normal because of warm temperatures may not find the appropriate food sources available and could starve. Early crop planting will help some pest insects increase in numbers early in the season, but may not affect other species. Likewise, mild winters may favor the predatory or parasitic insects that help keep pests in check, and result in fewer pests. Insect ecology is affected by a number of factors and is not solely dependent on winter or spring temperatures.”

The Entomological Society of America is the largest organization in the world serving the professional and scientific needs of entomologists and people in related disciplines. Founded in 1889, ESA today has more than 6,000 members affiliated with educational institutions, health agencies, private industry, and government.

Entomology 2012, ESA's 60th Annual Meeting, will be held in November in Knoxville, TN.