Published on 03/08/12

Early warm weather may mean earlier mosquito problems

By Merritt Melancon

This year’s exceptionally warm winter and the early spring temperatures mean Georgians may be dealing with warm weather pests, like ticks and mosquitos, earlier this year.

“Because of the early warm weather and the very mild winter, the populations will advance sooner,” said Elmer Gray, a public health entomologist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “But, as we get into the summer that will kind of level out, and the populations will be affected by humidity and other limiting factors … (The weather) will give them a head start.”

It’s a myth that very cold winters reduce insect populations and that warm winters lead to more bugs, said Ray Noblet, head of the college’s department of entomology.

Not more bugs, earlier bugs

But what warm winter temperatures will do is contribute to the early emergence of insects.

“Their population growth may get underway a little sooner but (the warm winter) won’t have a major impact on the insect population as a whole,” Noblet said.

Georgia entomologists have already seen mosquitos emerging in some parts of the state, and they have also reported a sighting of a Lone Star tick. This arthropod usually doesn’t become prolific until after Easter.

Gray, who focuses on studying the public health impact of mosquitos, urges Georgians to start preparing for mosquito season now before they are caught off guard by an early swarm. He recommends homeowners trim overgrown lawns and clear foliage away from walking trails and other areas that families use frequently.

Cut grass and dump standing water

“Keeping vegetation down along walking and hiking trails – either by cutting or by using some sort of herbicide – will really help when the ticks start to pick up later this spring,” Gray said.

This is also the time to check your yard for containers that are holding standing water. Old tires and planters provide perfect breeding spots for mosquitos. Homeowners should also fix any window or porch screens.

“We’re approaching the season – or the few months at least - when you’re going to want to have your windows open,” Gray said. “So if you’re screens need repair, this would be the time to do that.”

Animal owners should prepare by making sure horses are up-to-date on equine encephalitis vaccines and dogs are current on their preventative heartworm medication.

Merritt Melancon is a public relations manager with UGA's Terry College of Business and previously served as a public relations coordinator for the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and UGA Extension.

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