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Warm weather brings bugs ahead of schedule

Warm weather brings bugs ahead of schedule

Subterranean termites are among the pests making an early appearance this year.

Ticks, termites, fleas and mosquitoes are part of a torrent of insects emerging early, after a mild winter and the abrupt arrival of summer-like weather.

Exterminators are taking calls for pest infestations a month earlier than usual. Sarasota and Manatee counties already are treating ditches to keep mosquito populations at bay.

“We’ve had a lot more calls earlier in the year than we’re used to,” said Danny Nix, manager of Hughes Exterminators in Sarasota. Fleas, ticks, ants and termite swarms have become the biggest problems.

Since early March, daytime highs have regularly climbed into the mid- to upper-80s, about 10 degrees above normal. Temperatures rose high enough to match or break records six times so far this year.

Similar abnormally warm weather covered most of the nation through last week, though the northeast is bracing for cold weather and even potential snow in the next few days. In Michigan, for example, temperatures soared more than 30 degrees above normal last week.

The early warmth triggers changes in nature. Flowers bloom earlier and bugs jump into action faster.

“One cannot deny that the insects are appearing at an earlier time and in bigger numbers,” said Gary Hevel, a research collaborator with the Department of Entomology at the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, D.C.

Hevel said it is not just pests that respond to the warmth. Various flies and honeybees also are active earlier, in response to early flower blossoms.

Fred Santana, an entomologist who recently retired from Sarasota County, has been watching the changes from his own backyard. Ghost ants and white-footed ants invaded his home early and lots of pollinators, such as sweat bees, are buzzing around his flowers.

“The warmer temperatures — so few of them get killed off. The soil doesn’t get cold enough to really harm them and they just keep right on foraging,” Santana said.

That is what happened with the fleas and ticks, Nix said. The blood-suckers never took a rest because the weather did not get cold enough to slow them down.

“When it stays warm they can get larger in the size of their colonies. There’s nothing to push them back,” he said.

Calls for fleas and ticks are up 20 percent now compared with a year ago, Nix said. Two houses in downtown Sarasota had tick infestations so bad that Nix collected two full cups of the tiny pests. The residents of both homes spent a lot of time outdoors in the woods, where ticks are more commonly found.

Mosquitoes also are emerging earlier.

Chris Lesser, assistant director of the Manatee County Mosquito Control District, said residents and visitors are calling mosquito control for service about two months earlier than normal.

Dry weather helped to keep mosquito populations under control earlier in the year. But recent rain means the dormant larvae will soon hatch, said Eric Schreiber, manager of mosquito management services for Sarasota County.

After nearly an inch of rain fell recently in the North Port area, crews quickly treated the flooded ditches.

“If it’s really nice and hot, their development time is really fast,” Schreiber said.

To prevent mosquitoes, people need to remove all sources of standing water from their yards. For termites, keeping a tightly sealed home is key to preventing their entry.

It is also important to keep mulch, twigs and leaves at least 15 inches away from the house to prevent subterranean termites and other pests from entering.