Bug off! Cold weather won’t mean fewer bugs this summer, experts warn

It turns out, the cold never bothered them anyway
Bug off! Cold weather won’t mean fewer bugs this summer, experts warn
James Gathany/CDC

We’ve been searching for any sort of silver lining when it comes to this winter’s colder-than-usual temperatures. But if you were hoping the weather killed off your least favorite bug species, think again!

So far this winter, the cold caused the post office to suspend mail delivery, schools and campuses to shut down entirely, and temperatures to drop lower than they were in Antarctica.

Still, many bug species are continuing to thrive.

The cold weather hasn’t killed off stink bugs, and it likely won’t affect how many bees, ants, ticks, and mosquitoes we see this summer either. That’s because all the snow we’ve been getting has created a layer of insulation on the ground that protects insects from the cold.

Most bugs that live in Wisconsin have adapted to our weather; they’re used to the cold, even in extreme, record-breaking conditions.

Entomologists at the University of Wisconsin-Extension say some of our winter weather causes the pests to thrive. “If anything, snow helps out insects,” said P.J. Liesch, entomologist. “It might have been a different story if we had no snow at all and if we had gone into that polar vortex with brutally cold temperatures and didn’t have that insulation.”

The only bug the extreme cold has really impacted is the emerald ash borer, but those effects will likely last just one winter. The ash borer reproduces quickly, so entomologists predict the species will be able to catch up in the long run.

“When I look at all of our insects, in Wisconsin, we’ve got 20,000 to 25,000 different insect species,” said Liesch. “Most of those are going to be native to our area, adapted to our conditions, and they’ve evolved overtime to survive our Wisconsin winters as they come.”

The worst news is for people who hate stink bugs: these colder-than-usual temperatures make that species more likely to come inside our heated homes for warmth.

The silver lining? “Insects in general play a really important role for us and for the environment,” said Liesch. “Insects serve as the base of a lot of food webs. Reptiles and fish and birds rely on insects as a food source. If all the insects disappeared, those animals wouldn’t have things to eat.”

Insects are also important pollinators. Wisconsin is the No. 1 producer of cranberries in the country, and those berries have to be pollinated by several species.

Another positive spin on this: The cold isn’t likely to affect butterfly or firefly populations, so kids hoping to catch those this summer still will be able to do so.

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