Cold winter won’t thwart spring insects

March 12, 2014 

You might be thinking that this winter’s unusually cold temperatures will put a dent in the spring insect population, but this is just wishful thinking.

It is assumed that milder winters will mean a larger insect population in the spring, while a colder winter would result in the opposite. The truth is that insects have been in existence for millions of years and have adapted to survive extreme weather conditions. Native insects can withstand significant cold spells, especially during the middle of winter.

In order to survive these cold snaps, insects have adapted their lifecycle to avoid activity during these conditions. Monarch butterflies migrate to warmer areas, but most insects use other techniques to survive.

In temperate regions like Georgia, many insect overwinter in protective areas, like inside your house. Other insects will overwinter in a more protective life stage. Mosquitoes for example, overwinter in the egg stage and hatch in the spring with warmer temperatures and sufficient water levels.

Insects also undergo physiological changes that help them survive the cold. The shorter days and decline in temperatures in the fall trigger these changes. As the temperature drops below the insect’s ideal range, the insect becomes less active until it cannot move.

The main thing that insects have to avoid is ice crystals forming in their body. As a result, overwintering insects commonly stop eating and drinking to keep food materials and water out of their gut.

Insects that can tolerate the coldest of temperatures convert stored sugars into glycerol, a sugar alcohol. This serves as an insect “antifreeze.” This lowers the insect’s freezing point to well below freezing, a condition described as supercooling.

When this occurs, the insect can withstand extremely cold temperatures for extended periods.

Even with these adaptations, some insects will die during winter, but most will survive. Local conditions related to moisture and overall seasonal temperatures in the spring will have a larger impact on insect populations than this winter’s freezing weather.

Source: www.extension.uga.edu

For more information on any program area, contact Houston County Extension at 478-987-2028 or drop by our office in the old courthouse, downtown Perry, 801 Main St. Office hours are 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Visit our website at www.caes.uga.edu/extension/houston for more news about your local Extension office.

Dates to remember

March is AG Awareness Month

March 14: Small Farm Workshop, Milledgeville

March 14-15: Peaches to the Beaches

March 15: Cloverleaf DPA, Perry

March 19: Growing Vegetables in Containers, Perry

March 20: Farm Bill Workshop, Perry

March 21-22: Spring Plant Sale, Macon

April 5-6: Spring Home and Garden Show, Perry

April 29: Totally Tomatoes

Charlotte Mote is the Houston County agricultural and natural resources agent. Contact her at 478-987-2028 or cmote1@uga.edu.

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