This year’s mild winter and early spring has plants flowering and putting out leaves about three weeks sooner than usual. Ticks and mosquitoes have also been spotted early.
So with all this warm weather, we can expect a particularly bad bug season, right?
Missouri Department of Conservation natural history biologist Mike Arduser says not necessarily. “I hate to use the phrase “old wives’ tale,” but…”
Arduser says that for pests like fleas and ticks, the availability of host animals is more important than temperature. And mosquitoes need rain and standing water to breed.
The bigger question, Arduser says, is whether insects like bees and butterflies are keeping pace with the early spring.
“Are these plants that are flowering now getting pollinated?” Arduser said. “I mean are the pollinators on the same schedule? The same goes with, you know, herbivorous insects. The caterpillars that eat certain leaves.”
Arduser says that while some native insects have emerged weeks early, others have not.
When it comes to agricultural pests, University of Illinois entomologist Joseph Spencer says in some cases, more may have survived over the winter.
He says some pest insects are out early — but beneficial insects are too.
“Many of these pest insects have predators and parasites that are adapted to the lifecycle of their hosts,” Spencer said. “And so even with a pest insect, if it’s coming out early, it’s also going to have predators and parasites that are tracking the same weather, so they’re going to be active as well.”
Spencer says it’s too soon to say how the warm weather will affect the pest burden on this year’s corn and soybean crops.