Photo courtesy of Jeff Wilkinson
This spring saw an early advance in some "pest" insects thanks to mild winters and unprecedented March warmth. Ticks made an early appearance, as they travel faster when the weather warms, increasing risks of the potentially deadly lyme disease. According to Dr. Jeff Bradshaw, an entomology professor at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, certain insect species will migrate to warmer weather when winter comes, but others will stay behind and aren't able to thrive in the cold. With this year's winter being so mild for much of the country, more non-migrating species survived than usual.
"So you start of the spring will more insects already," Bradshaw said. Add in that thousands of heat records were broken this March and that April was ranked the fourth-warmest on record and we had great conditions for insects to emerge early and migrate north at faster rates.
While winter and spring populations rely heavily on temperatures, Bradshaw says that summer populations are regulated by rainfall. Pests like mosquitoes and black flies rely on water to breed and lay eggs. Areas with the most rain will experience more of these insects, and with more insects may come the risk for more disease.
"For example, here in western Nebraska we have a high risk for West Nile Virus, because we have a lot of irrigation systems on the farms here," Bradshaw said. "The virus is carried by Flood Water Mosquitoes, which love the stagnant water."
Many parts of the country will be facing above-normal rainfall this summer. While the extra rain will be good for southwestern Texas, which still has areas of extreme drought, it will also mean an increase in insects. Southern Arizona and New Mexico will also be facing higher-than-average amounts of rainfall, as the Southwest monsoon thunderstorms are expected to be heavy this summer. Much of the Northeast and Appalachians will also see above-average rain, and Florida's amounts will be consistent with the average.
With insects already thriving in most areas, parts of the country that will experience a lot of rain will see a great deal of pests. It's important to take steps to protect your family, your pets and yourself from disease-carrying insects. Most thrive on stagnant water, so be sure to prevent puddles from sticking around your property for too long. If you have lawn ornaments or other objects outside near your home, be sure to dump any collected water out of them after the rain ends. If you collect rain water for indoor chores be sure to take it inside quickly and not allow it to spend days sitting out for pests to get cozy in.
Citronella candle, courtesy of Vincenzo Mazza
Light citronella candles around your outdoor parties and gatherings for a nontoxic way to prevent pests. Be sure to spray yourself and your children with an insect repellent before spending long periods of times in the woods or at picnics or little league games. If going out into the sun for longer than twenty minutes, apply sunscreen first and then your bug spray. If going through the woods or tall grasses wear long pants and sleeves to minimize the area for insects to bite. Also be sure to talk to your vet about what they recommend for putting on your pets to help them avoid fleas, ticks and mosquitoes. Always check yourself, family and pets when you come back inside after spending time outdoors to look for ticks. For more ways to protect yourself from insects, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Protection against Mosquitoes, Ticks, & Other Insects & Arthropods page.