I have heard several folks make that remark recently. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it just isn’t true. It is a myth that a cold weather and hard winters drastically reduce the insect population. Insects have been around for thousands of years — they are survivors.
According to Dr. Xing Ping Hu, an Alabama Extension entomologist and Auburn University professor of entomology, insects are designed to withstand cold weather.
“Some crops, fruit trees and even livestock animals may fall prey to cold weather, but insects can survive even record cold,” Hu says. “Insects have been around for ages and have survived a wide range of weather conditions. 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.”
Over time, some species simply develop increased freeze tolerance or resistance.
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 been neither 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 and 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 affect 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 another recent new pest. 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 of kudzu bugs she’s undertaken in recent weeks revealed no difference in survival rates between last winter and the current one.
We are pretty sure that this winter’s cold temperatures will give some insects, like yellow jackets, a temporary setback in the coming spring and summer. But for others, the freezing days are not long enough to make a dent in in most of the state’s pest populations.
Simply put, if all this cold weather has left you anticipating fewer ant bites in your backyard this summer, or fewer mosquitoes to spoil sunny-weather grilling, you may be in for some disappointment.
“Most insects have a breaking point, but cold weather typically isn’t one of them,” Hu says.
For help on other home and garden questions, contact your local county extension office or visit us online at www.aces.edu.
Shane Harris is an extension agent for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.