Raymond Grumney, Star Tribune
Taking a bite out of summer
- Article by: JOHN EWOLDT
- Star Tribune
- June 2, 2012 - 7:44 AM
Bzzzzzzzz. Slap. Bzzzzzzzzz. Slap.
Ahh, the soothing sounds of summer. Or in this case, a dread-filled realization that as nice as winter was, summer is starting early.
And that means an influx of our warm-weather frenemies -- creepy, crawly, stinging, buzzing, flying insects.
But did the mild winter and temperate spring really incubate the perfect swarm of bugs and other pests?
You can put down the swatter. According to local bug experts, bugs got about a three-week jump on summer, but shouldn't produce a bumper crop of annoyance.
"How many bugs we see in the spring is a lot more complicated than a mild winter," said Jeff Hahn, an extension entomologist at the University of Minnesota.
The Eastern tent caterpillar, for example, which normally starts to worm its way into sight in late April, started showing up in March, four weeks ahead of schedule, Hahn said.
Pest control companies in the metro area started getting calls about carpenter ants in March, which normally spike in May, said Todd Leyse, president at Adam's Pest Control in Medina.
And a few mosquito holdovers from last year made some people worry about high numbers this summer, but last year was a mild year for mosquitoes and so far, this year is proceeding normally, said Mike McLean, public information officer for the Metropolitan Mosquito Control District.
People should still take precautions against deer ticks, which spread Lyme disease, but the numbers are no higher than in previous years, McLean said.
All that early activity had pest control companies hopping.
"We were much busier than normal," Leyse said.
But the earlier-than-normal sightings don't mean we're in for a swat-fest of a summer. A really harsh winter can lower bug populations but a mild one keeps them about the same as the previous year.
A warm winter is good for the Japanese beetle, Hahn said, but not a dry, warm winter like we had. They lay eggs in July, but lack of snow cover meant the eggs lost the insulating effect. Other factors that influence bug populations are temperature and precipitation. Some species flourish in wet conditions (mosquitoes), while others thrive in hot, dry weather (spider mites).
The good news, according to Hahn, is that bug season 2012 is shaping up to be "about average" so far.
Some insects could buck the trend, however. With an extra three to four weeks at the start of spring and potentially an extra few weeks in the fall, there could be a larger population of insects such as bees and wasps, Leyse said. Impregnated female wasps lay eggs in the spring, which means their numbers grow exponentially over the summer.
"With an extra month to develop the nest, the nest population could double and create a bumper crop of wasps,'' he said.
What is it about insects that bothers people so much? It's the surprise interaction that annoys us initially, but often it's the sheer number of them that freaks us out. It's also a tip of the iceberg thing. "We worry that if we see a few of them, there a lot more hidden nearby," Hahn said.
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