Despite winter weather, pesky insects and rodents unlikely to disappear

If you think all insects disappear — or die during the cold winter months — think again.

According to Jim Fredericks, Ph.D., chief entomologist and vice president of technical and regulatory affairs for the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), there are a number of insects that can survive cold weather.

Fredericks said ticks especially will survive the winter months.

“Ticks will shelter underneath leaf litter for protection,” he said. “Once snow falls on top, it actually acts as an insulator and shields them from the cold.”

Fredericks said that termites also survive in winter because the burrow deep into the soil to stay warm, traveling below the frost line.

He said the same goes for ants which will move below ground for warmth, sealing up their colony’s structure and “even physically lowering their body temperature.”

As for mosquitoes, Fredericks said there is good and bad news. “The good news is that adult mosquitoes cannot endure the cold. The bad news is that their eggs will survive by entering a state of diapause, during which they slow down their development and essentially hibernate.”

According to Fredericks, those smelly stink bugs, pesky cluster flies and Asian lady beetles will move indoors and invade households when the climate gets cold.

He said that other pests that make their way indoors during the winter are the furry kind — rodents such as rats and mice.

“Rodents will look to take shelter during the cold winter months in buildings and homes — and even vehicles,” Fredericks said. “Rats can fit through openings the size of a quarter, while mice can squeeze through entry points as small as a dime.”

Snow fleas

Some insects burrow underground when temperatures begin to drop, but the snow flea can be seen on top of the snow.

A few years ago, Titusville residents reported to The Herald that they saw “snow fleas,” tiny black dots that appeared on the snow.

Fredericks said the term “snow flea” actually refers to a pest formally known as a springtail when seen during the winter.

“In reality, they actually aren’t fleas at all,” he said. “Springtails are found year-round due to a special protein that acts as an ‘anti-freeze,’ which allows them to survive frigid temperatures.”

He said the contrast of the snow flea’s black body against the white snow is what causes them to suddenly “appear” in the winter months.

“They’re attracted to damp and decaying matter, typically gathering around the bases of trees where the snow has melted during winter,” Fredericks said. “Snow fleas do not pose any threats to people or their homes. They don’t bite and won’t threaten household pets. At most, they are a nuisance if they get inside a structure.”

When asked if there was a borderline temperature, for instance, temperatures of zero or below, that an insect cannot survive, Fredericks replied that the most resilient species of pests have found ways to circumvent the effects of sub-zero temperatures, regardless of how cold it may be outside.

“In fact, pests have survived winters for millions of years,” he said. “Many of the pesky pests that bug us during the summer, like ticks, mosquitoes and ants, have already prepared for the frigid temperatures and snow.”

Fredericks said there are two signs that it’s time for insects to hunker down well ahead of winter: consistent cooler temperatures and a decrease in daylight, and for them it’s instinctual.

However, he said for pests such as rodents, stink bugs and cluster flies, households provide a place for them to forage and stay warm in order to make it through winter.

“On the other hand, insects that can survive outdoors when the temperature drops, such as ticks, ants and termites, will typically stay put beneath the soil, leaf litter and snow until warmer weather comes,” Fredericks said.

Getting rid of pesky pests

What can homeowners do to eradicate these pests during the winter months?

“If homeowners suspect or find an infestation during the winter, the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) recommends they call a licensed pest control professional to inspect and treat their property,” said Fredericks. “As far as proactive measures, NPMA recommends winter pest-proofing to prevent pests from gaining entry in the first place.”

He said homeowners should make sure trees are neatly trimmed to cut off access to the underside of roof overhangs. Shore up any areas of rotting wood along the fascia board of the roofline.

“Replace tattered weather stripping around doors and windows, and make sure to use silicone-based caulk to seal exterior cracks or gaps,” Fredericks added. “Also, remedy loose mortar and use steel wool to plug utility line holes underneath cabinets.”

He said that firewood should be kept off the ground, covered, and at least 20 feet from the household. Before bringing it inside, inspect and brush off firewood.

In addition, Fredericks recommended that homeowners clear any problematic accumulations of snow to avoid ice dams, as pests are extremely attracted to moisture. He encourages people to hire a professional to inspect and clean the flue, as well as install a cap over the chimney.

“Inside the house, make sure to declutter the attic, basement and any utility rooms to eliminate any harborage sites for rodents,” Fredericks said. “Also, keep food in sealed containers and always clean up crumbs.”

In addition, for those residents who enjoy being outdoors in the winter, whether they ski, go snowboarding or snowmobiling, there’s no need to worry about annoying insects.

Fredericks said that during the frigid winter months, these pests will typically leave people alone, opting to stay sheltered rather than exposing themselves to the harsh elements.

“However, aside from the recent “Bomb Cyclone,” (the Northeast recently experienced) a string of warm winters has allowed for increased pest activity and population growth.” he added. “People shouldn’t assume that just because the leaves are changing colors, that harmful pests are no longer a threat.”

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