Will a Cold Winter Kill Pests?


It’s been a long winter. I don’t care where you lived, the snow and cold didn’t give any of us much relief for a long time, and I’m not about to make the claim that we’re out of the woods, yet.

But I’m trying to be positive. I figure if we’re having such a rough time of it, consider the insects, particularly the bad characters from other parts of the world, hunkered underneath shingles or in garden debris. I hoped to find good news that by weathering this terrible cold we would find relief from the invasion of unwanted insects. Unfortunately, I’m afraid I can’t share any earth shattering news.

Insects in Cold Temps

Denise Ellsworth at The Ohio State University pointed out while there might be a reduction in some pests, even the beneficial insects can take a hit. She says, “For example, bagworm egg survival suffers with the cold, but honey bee survival can be impacted by sustained cold temperatures.”

I hate it when she’s right. From our own experience this year, my husband reported some of our hives are having a more difficult time than normal, and this is even with the added support of a heat tape he runs through the hives to provide additional warmth when it dips below zero.

I had to explore the possibility that other pest species might not be faring well, but unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find much good news. Mark Whitmore from Cornell University published a report in February 2014 looking at how the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid (which is kind of like an aphid in that is sucks the life out of the plant, but it looks like little fuzz balls) and the Emerald Ash Borer are affected by the bitter temperatures.

He demonstrated how both species suffer mortality when the temperatures reach sub-zero levels, but cautions that they will most likely rebound even if significantly knocked back. Whitmore states in the report, “Remember, Emerald Ash Borer is killing untold numbers of trees near Moscow, Russia, and it’s much colder there!” Sad, but true.

The marmorated stink bugs hanging out underneath the bark of trees will most likely not survive the cold spells Northeastern folks had this year, but the ones chilling out in the attics are probably still nice and toasty. And it’s a bummer to realize that the Asian tiger mosquito, a horrid little creature than can easily live in urban conditions (where ponds and other larger bodies of standing water aren’t prevalent), probably won’t feel much of the effect of the extreme cold. The numbers might be knocked back a bit, but you better be ready with the bug spray. Nor will those pesky ticks. From reports, they’re clinging on their warm-bodied hosts and doing just fine.

So, I’m sorry to say that this cold isn’t going to do us much good on the pest front. It might help a little bit, but it looks like we’re going to have to remain vigilant in our pest patrol.

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