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Very cold weather won’t lower insect population

Arkansas’s record-breaking cold may have seemed to last forever, but it still wasn’t long enough to make a dent in the state’s pest populations, said John Hopkins, extension urban entomologist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

The National Weather Service reported record lows in several spots last week , including a low of five degrees at Little Rock Air Force Base, and a low of nine at North Little Rock on Tuesday, Jan. 7. Other places saw record- breaking or tying lows in the teens. Stuttgart tied the record of 12 on Wednesday, Jan. 8 and Hot Springs’ low of 10 on Tuesday, Jan. 7 broke the old record of 13 set back in 1970.

“So far, it’s not really going to have an impact on fleas, ticks, mosquitoes or fire ants at this point,” Hopkins said last week.

Survival tactics

Ticks and fleas have good strategies for surviving even the coldest temperatures in the South.

“Ticks, if they’re not on a host, burrow down into the leaf litter,” he said.

The leaves provide insulation from a hard winter and some tick species are hardy enough to survive northern winters.

For fleas, “if temperatures are less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit, it will kill some adults,” he said. “Eggs, larvae and cocoons are generally in protected areas.”

Of course, “if you’ve got pets, flea adults have a warm host and the eggs, larvae and pupae are in the pet bedding or carpet in your warm house. You’re helping them survive,” Hopkins said. “As far as a surviving and producing thriving population next year, fleas will always come through.”

Arkansas is host to many species of mosquito and each has its own method of surviving the winter.

“Some lay eggs in the soil and will overwinter there,” he said. “Some species overwinter in the water. Now if the water froze solid like an ice cube, you might kill some.

“Here in Arkansas, the water doesn’t usually freeze to the bottom,” Hopkins said.

Male mosquitoes don’t survive the winter, but females can, sheltering in animal burrows, hollow logs, barns and the like.

“From our fact sheet, ‘Twenty Questions about Fire Ants’, you’ll see that it takes temperatures of less than 10 degrees Fahrenheit sustained for about two weeks to see a significant reduction in colonies in the area,” Hopkins said.

“These critters have been around for ages and have survived through a lot of different weather conditions,” he said.

Find the fire ant fact sheet, at www.uaex.edu/Other_Areas/publications/PDF/FSA-7052.pdf, or contact your county extension office.

Please note that many links to extension publications will be changing this spring as the extension service renovates its site.

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