Record heat produces insect 'breeding bonanza'

4:54 AM, Jul 24, 2012   |    comments
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As if this summer isn't bad enough already, the unusual warmth is turning bugs extra frisky.

"We're calling it a breeding bonanza," says Missy Henriksen of the National Pest Control Association.

Across the country, as a result of record heat, pests from grasshoppers to crickets and ants to bees are arriving earlier and in greater numbers than usual, entomologists at HomeTeam Pest Defense say.

"We're seeing an increase in a lot of different pests right now," company entomologist Russ Horton says.

Pest controllers are battling grasshoppers in Texas, ants in Florida, and crickets and bees across the country, he says.

"Insects develop more rapidly with higher temperatures," says entomologist David Denlinger of Ohio State University. He adds that insects did well this past winter given the lack of intense cold.

Through June, the USA was sweating through its warmest year on record, according to the National Climatic Data Center.

Insects such as grasshoppers and crickets can be a nuisance to homeowners, but they are "very devastating" in the agricultural world, Horton says.

As harvesting season nears, the ongoing hot, dry weather could have grasshoppers and similar insects feeding in greater-than-normal numbers on alfalfa, tobacco and some vegetable crops, says Lee Townsend, an entomologist at the University of Kentucky.

"Grasshoppers should be abundant, because the bacteria and fungi that normally provide natural control are not very effective under hot, dry conditions," Townsend says.

Grasshoppers are already plentiful in New Jersey because of the hot weather, says entomologist George Hamilton of Rutgers University.

And the most annoying summer pest of all, mosquitoes, are enjoying the warmth, despite the record drought.

"Mosquitoes can breed in as little as a quarter- to half-inch of water," Henriksen says.

Texas and Florida are two spots where mosquitoes are particularly bad, Horton says, because those two states have been both unusually warm and rather wet this year.

Forty-seven human West Nile virus infections, which mosquitoes spread, have been reported this year to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One man in Texas died from the virus.

Drought can drive insects into homes: Ants, for instance, Henriksen says, will come into homes to find water.

"If they're not finding it outside, they'll come inside," she says.

If the warmth stays into the fall, insects will continue to do well until the frost comes, Denlinger predicts.

And beyond that, "if we have another mild winter, we'll continue to see more pests out there," Horton says.

By Doyle Rice

USA Today

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