Creepy crawlies love it when the temperature soars, as it did in March.

They waken from their winter stupor and come out looking for food. If the temperature plummets again, that early foraging for insect eats could be fatal. If there haven’t been too many ups and downs on the thermometer, they soldier on, looking for ways to tear up your lawn, invade your house and suck on your blood.

Maine has definitely had a mild winter, so are we in store for more insect activity this year?

The National Pest Management Association says we should anticipate increased numbers of boxelder bugs, multicolored Asian lady beetles and springtails. Ant and termite colonies are expected to be more active, and more wasp and hornets may survive the winter, resulting in more colonies in spring and summer.

James Dill, an entomologist with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, says there are some insect pests for which he fields more phone calls this time of year, and that could pose some problems for homeowners this spring. He calls them “the big three,” and here are his predictions for them:

MOSQUITOES

Usually, the first flush of mosquitoes in spring are “snow pool” mosquitoes that come from eggs laid in depressions the previous year. Those depressions fill with snowmelt in spring, the eggs are submerged in water, and they hatch.

But this year, there’s not really any snow to melt.

“Unless we have a real wet spring and those depressions fill up with rainwater rather than snowmelt, then certainly early-season mosquitoes may be lower in numbers,” Dill said. “But like I always tell people, though, that’s all relative too. If you had a million mosquitoes in your backyard last year, and you only have a half-million this year, do you really notice the difference?”

It also says nothing about what might happen later in the year. To protect yourself, Dill advises using a good Deet-based repellent or perhaps the newer repellent Picaridin. Organic repellents work, too, he said, but only last about half an hour.

Some people swear by mosquito magnets and traps, but where they’re placed is crucial.

“Those things are very expensive,” Dill said. “Even though I have people who swear by them, I have other people that swear at them.”

Whatever you decide to use, it’s important to use something. Once, all anyone had to worry about were a few mosquito bites. Today, not only can mosquitoes transmit West Nile virus, people have to worry about contracting Eastern equine encephalitis, “which is really nasty,” Dill said.

“You know,” he said, “a third of the people who get it die, and another third of them have neurological problems the rest of their life, so that only leaves a third that recover.”

TICKS

This could be a big year for deer ticks and Lyme disease.

Blame it on the mice.

Two years ago, in 2010, Maine had a good nut crop in the woods — beechnuts, acorns — and the population of white-footed mice exploded the following year. The mice are an important part of the deer tick life cycle, because deer tick nymphs feed off them.

“Last year, what happened was there wasn’t a big nut crop in the woods, so a lot of the mice died off, and as soon as they started dying, the ticks started crawling around looking for other things,” Dill said.

Those “other things” included dogs and cats and, sometimes, people. This spring, those nymphs will be looking for their second blood meal, and some of them may already be infected with Lyme disease. Dill has already started getting calls about ticks being active.

“Deer ticks are active when it’s 40 degrees or warmer, so they’ve been out and about for a long time,” he said. “Almost every day over the last month, it’s been 40 or above. We’ve had a lot of people saying they’re on my dog, my cat or myself.”

Here are some suggestions for keeping yourself safe:

Use tick repellent.

Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants. Tuck your pants legs inside your socks.

Wear light clothing so it’s easier to see ticks.

Avoid interfaces of grassy areas and woods.

When you get home at night, do a tick check.

“If you’ve got a wooded area around your yard, try to stay away from it as much as possible where the grass and the woods interface,” Dill said. “That’s where you find the ticks a lot. They get up and crawl up on things, and do this little game we call ‘questing,’ where they hold on with their hind legs and their two front legs are sticking out and waving in the wind. And if something fuzzy comes by, they just grab onto it.”

WHITE GRUBS

A white grub could grow up to be a Japanese beetle or a European chafer that damages your flowers, trees and shrubs.

But before a grub emerges from the ground, it can wreak havoc on your lawn.

The grubs feed on the roots of your grass, and turn a nice green lawn into big patches of brown.

This year, there’s more than a mild winter at play. It was also warm last fall, so the grubs had a longer time to feed on your grass before settling down for winter.

“We had people bringing in white grubs easily at least a month after we normally get them in, so they were still out there feeding,” Dill said. “So since they fed then, the question becomes, are they going to be out earlier this year? Is there going to be less damage, is there going to be more damage? And we really don’t know the answer to that question yet.”

Dill is already getting calls, though, from homeowners who have found skunks tearing up their lawns at night, looking for tasty grubs to eat.

“I drive by, and it looks like either you had a bunch of bad golfers out there with divots all over the place, or someone came through with a rototiller in the night and rototilled your lawn up,” he said. “That’s how bad it is in some areas. And the skunks came out of hibernation early too, I think, because of the warm weather.”

The warmer fall and winter might mean more grub damage, but it doesn’t necessarily translate into more Japanese beetles in June.

“Even if they’re early, you might back it up a week so if you normally get them the second week of June, you might get them the first week of June this year,” Dill said. “Right now, we are a little ahead of time, but Maine always seems to have a way of catching up.”

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: MeredithGoad

 

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