El Niño — the wet weather pattern blamed for this winter’s record snowfall in the East and mudslides in the West — is expected to wreak more havoc this spring with a surge in insect pests. While the southern half of the US experiences weather that’s wetter and cooler than normal, the northern half and Western Canada experiences warmer weather, about three degrees above normal. It also tends to be drier, with El Nino years closely correlating to droughts on the Prairies.
The El Niño, a flow of warmer-than-average surface waters from the Pacific Ocean, changes weather patterns across much of the world. Historically, El Niño events occur about every two to seven years. The latest cycle is now expected to become one of the strongest on record, the U.N.’s weather agency said last month, adding its effect could be compounded by climate change.
Many species of insects are sticking around long past the time when they would normally go into hibernation, because warm weather is messing with the temperature cues they rely on.
“This could potentially screw them up,” said entomologist John Swann, with the University of Calgary.
“Normally (insects) come out in the spring and (lay eggs), so now their larva is going to be there, ready to go,” Swann said.
He added we can expect a big bug boom arriving early in 2016, potentially including a burst of bark beetles chewing up trees, or pests that damage crops.
The threat of termite infestations also could intensify this spring with forecasts predicting average temperatures and above-average to average precipitation. The increase in precipitation could create a huge increase in spiders, roaches, and mosquitoes this summer.
A season of intermittent rains with warming temperatures is conducive to termite swarming. Swarms occur when winged termites leave the nest to form new colonies — often right after a rainfall. But termites can also reproduce right in their own nests. In fact, during years of reduced swarms, a single subterranean termite colony might split into multiple smaller ones underground.
“When conditions are warm and wet, many pests begin to swarm in search of food, shelter and mates,” said Corey Lewis, Pest Specialist with Truly Nolen Pest Control “Unfortunately, this search brings many of these pests inside, where they can create a nuisance and destroy property.”
More bugs will survive the winter due to the mild temperatures, so spring will automatically start off with a higher than average population. This can mean big families of bugs awakening in spring with a voracious appetite.
That large spring population means a larger number of bugs breeding to kick start the next cycle of population growth. By summer numbers can be double a non El Niño year, due to larger hives, larger colonies, etc.,” said Lewis.
“A warm winter also means an early spring and that brings all the insects out early. This will result in a longer breeding season for many bugs.”
For bees, there is also the prospect of temporal mismatch, come spring. Sara Zahendra, a conservation biologist with the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, explained that while nothing is set in stone, a warm winter and early spring can accelerate blooming times of key early pollen producers like willows and rhododendron, important food sources for bumble bees. By the time female bees emerge from hibernation, these critical food supplies may have already dwindled.
Another way that warm weather can spell trouble for insects is by burning through their energy reserves. A season with alternating periods of warm and freezing temperatures can play havoc with insects’ metabolisms, causing them to come out of winter diapause repeatedly.
Lewis is urging homeowners to plan and budget for more insect infestations in their home during the spring and summer months, and encourages them to think about a four season’s protection plan.
Truly Nolen’s Four Season approach is a proactive program that addresses the changes in pest behaviour from season to season.
“We make it our business to know all about local pest trends in Canada and, more specifically, trends in your individual community. When pest activity increases, generally more than one homeowner will report a similar pest issue to their Truly Nolen Canada team,” said Lewis.
Keep your home safe year round by calling a Truly Nolen Canada Pest Control Professional to schedule an inspection. 1-888-832-4705. Proudly serving: Dundas, Ancaster, Oakville, Hamilton and Burlington.