Harsh winter could be bad for bugs

Eric Barrett, OSU extension educator

BOARDMAN, Ohio (WKBN) — As challenging as it may be to find some positives coming out of this long, cold winter, there may be a silver lining after all.

Some species of bugs will have lower populations this spring and summer because of the bitter cold temperatures and heavy snowfall.

First News Meteorologist Ryan Halicki learned many pests that feed off of humans won’t be affected as much, including fleas, ticks and mosquitoes. Those bugs usually survive by living on a host through the winter.

The more susceptible bugs are ones that eat peoples’ gardens.

“The low temperatures we’ve had is enough to reduce and kill a lot of the populations of some of the bad insects you see. But it’s not going to harm a lot of our insects that have a cold threshold,” said OSU extension educator Eric Barrett. “Insects all survive differently in the winter time.”

Youngstown State University biology professor Dr. John Usis said many bugs that feed off of humans in the warm months survive as unhatched eggs in the soil.

The snow pack that’s on the ground at 9 inches hasn’t gone anywhere and helps insulate the ground. The snow insulation helps keep ground temperatures from getting too cold.

But some bugs aren’t so lucky. Barrett said a lot will still suffer.

“A lot of the insects that do normally survive our winters will be impacted, they might just not be eliminated down to zero for the season. But they might end up 30 to 40 percent lower. Just depends on what insect it is and what kind of antifreeze they have,” Barrett said.

One of those not-so-lucky bugs is the flea beetle, which attacks corn and eggplant.

“Those two plants would have a better chance of producing a better crop and not being adversely affected by the flea beetle,” Barrett said.

Other not-so-lucky bugs include coddling moths that attack apple trees and bag worms that eat evergreen trees.

The cold can help reduce bug populations initially, but eventually they will return.

“We’ll eventually see some come in other ways, but we won’t have a nice bumper crop of them, so it will be a good thing for home gardeners,” Barrett said.

Bugs can rebound by being carried in the wind, by animals and by storms.

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