Optimists hope frigid winter temperatures might quell bugs

Whenever we have a mild winter folks complain that mosquitoes and other insect pests will be worse. This past January we had some of the coldest temperatures in several years. People have asked me if that weather might have a silver lining. It’s wishful thinking.

Think about it. I’m originally from Maine where the mercury plummets far more than it does here. Mosquitoes are worse too. I’ve heard they are especially bad in Alaska also, and it’s much colder there. Standing water is the key to high mosquito populations, so if we have a wet spring we can expect more of the ravenous blood sucking devils. If it’s dry in April and May, we might have fewer.

I hate to be a wet blanket, but the same goes for most crop pests. Spring weather influences pest populations much more than winter weather does. Even without the protection of a few feet of snow, frigid temperatures in our area have virtually no effect on crop pests either. Don’t expect the near zero temperatures to deminish the corn borers in your garden this summer.

Long-term cool temperatures have a greater impact. All arthropods are what we commonly call “cold blooded.” Their body temperature depends on their environment. If it’s warm they are active. Cool temperatures cause them to be lethargic. If it were to be cool during March, April and May, many pests would not reproduce at the same rates they normally do. Cold temperatures would certainly create other problems, however.

Moisture is far more important to bug populations than temperature, particularly past temperatures. Many insects overwinter in soil. Dry conditions are generally not suited for their survival.

Too much water will benefit mosquitoes, but it will harm populations of other insects. Ants and other things that basically live underground would be negatively impacted.

Temperature has little to do with diseases that harm plants either. Controlling plant pests is more effective with proper culture and sanitation. Many diseases are made worse because infected tissue remains in the field and the same crop is planted the following spring.

For a disease to manifest itself three factors must be present. Without a susceptible host, a virulent pathogen and a favorable environment a disease could not occur. However, removing all plant residue is usually unnecessary.

Cover crops can cause what I refer to as a microflora civil war. Different microorganisms compete for resources and often the beneficial ones outcompete the pathogenic ones. It doesn’t always work in some agricultural situations, but that’s basically how nature works.

On the positive side, bees and other beneficial insects shouldn’t be bothered by this winter either. Both predators like lady beetles and praying mantis along with parasites like many wasps should be out there killing the bad guys. Pollinators should be doing their thing too.

Since we’re disposing of myths, woolly worms don’t forecast coming temperatures. They’re an indication of what’s already happened. The more they have molted, the browner they become. Different species also have different patterns. Some naturally are more brown while others are more black. Direction of travel is a myth too. Northward crawling caterpillars do not forecast a mild winter. Sorry.


Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (tmanzer@ecpps.k12.nc.us).

About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I now teach agriculture to high school students at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, NC. My wife teaches with me and we make a great team. I also write a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com). I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that I plan to publish eventually. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone, a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. Never Alone is now available in paperback, Kindle and Nook. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death. In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books.
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One Response to Optimists hope frigid winter temperatures might quell bugs

  1. tonytomeo says:

    Mosquitoes do not like arid chaparral climates much, but there are certainly some here, along with some new Asian mosquito that is out during the day and spreads disease! How Middle Ages!

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