Insects are among the oldest, numerous and most successful animals on earth. In your backyard, there are probably 1,000 insects at a given time, but only 3 percent of insects are even classified as pests. That 3 percent destroys millions of dollars’ worth of crops each year and carries diseases of man and animals. So, is there any chance that a cold winter can help us? Well, not really.
Dr. Nancy Hinkle is a professor of entomology at the University of Georgia with specialties in veterinary, medical and urban entomology. When it comes to the issue of insect populations during a mild winter, Dr. Hinkle says it best:
Insects are durable — winter never kills them all off.
But there are differences in numbers that survive truly harsh winters — with long periods of freezing temperatures — and numbers that persist through mild winters (such as we are currently experiencing).
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.
Mosquito larvae can survive just fine under a sheet of ice covering their pool.
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! So, it probably isn’t the fact that we have more insects this year over the next. The issue could be that we are spending more time outside, which is not a bad thing!
For more information, contact Effingham Extension Agent Sam Ingram at 754-8040 or email@example.com.