Termites, Ants and Bed Bugs Set to Surge with Spring's Arrival
Insect expert offers bug forecast for regions across America
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC, March 18, 2009 – Insect armies are about to descend on neighborhoods across America. Spring is when termites begin to swarm, ants are on the move and a host of other pests go searching for food, shelter and mates.
Unfortunately, this search brings many of these insects inside our homes, where they can create a nuisance, endanger our homes and sometimes, our families.
Just how badly you'll be bugged this spring depends on several factors, including the region where you live, your recent weather patterns and even the landscaping around your house.
"Because of climate and terrain, different parts of the country have different types and degrees of pest problems," explained Dr. Bob Davis, entomologist and a scientist at BASF, the world's largest chemical company.
Weather also plays a big role, because most bugs thrive when conditions are warm and wet, creating lush outdoor habitats. No one can predict precisely how much rain or sunshine will occur in any one spot this spring, but recent weather patterns – coupled with our knowledge of pest behavior – offer some indication of the pest outlook in different parts of the nation.
Dr. Davis offered this outlook for pest problems across specific U.S. regions:
Termites can thrive in the hot, humid summers and temperate winters in the South because they are highly sensitive to cold and dry air. Today, the South is Ground Zero for the nation's most destructive pest. Annually, termites cost American property owners between $5-6 billion, and people who live in communities ranging from Dallas to Atlanta to Washington, D.C., suffer a disproportionate share of the damage.
"People in the South need to be very vigilant to avoid termites," Davis said. "Termite pressure can be heavy and they can damage structures throughout the year. And if they get inside, they will be able to damage the wood that's holding up your house."
That destruction could heat up this spring in Southern states, especially with the National Weather Service predicting warmer than average temperatures in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana.
The forecast for spring precipitation is average to below average. But while drought often reduces termite swarming, it usually does not diminish the overall populations. Swarms occur when winged termites leave the nest to form new colonies – often right after a rainfall. But termites also can 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, Davis said.
Ant populations are also expected to grow across the South this spring, bolstered by an influx of feisty foreign invaders. For example, the "Caribbean crazy ant" had only recently been seen in Texas, but has already begun to spread to multiple counties in Southeast Texas and drive out the native ants.
"There are whole neighborhoods in Southeast Texas that are being overrun with millions of these invasive crazy ants," Davis said.
More ominous is the migration of the red imported fire ant. Its sting is very painful and can cause life-threatening anaphylactic shock in about one percent of people. Since arriving at the port of Mobile, Alabama, in the 1930s, red imported fire ants have gradually spread throughout the Southeastern states.
Winter came late to many places in the West, including California. But February packed a punch of precipitation, dumping heavy rains on the coast and up to 10 feet of snow in the Sierra Nevada area. While the storms were a blessing to some drought-stricken areas, they also set the stage for heavier than normal bug infestations.
More moisture on the ground means the Golden State and its neighbors can expect a greener spring. They can also expect more pests because of the verdant habitat. Spiders, scorpions, beetles, termites – all of these can flourish when normally dry ground is flush with water.
The wet conditions will also create a field day for ants, including the highly invasive Argentine ant, whose massive colonies can be found along the West Coast and parts of the Eastern and Gulf Coast states.
"The Argentine ant has few natural enemies here, so they can quickly knock out the native ants," Davis said. "When Argentine ants get inside a house, they're a force to be reckoned with. I've seen these ants travel in columns that were as wide as my wrist."
Red imported fire ants also have invaded parts of the West, expanding their range every year. They are extremely resilient and have adapted so well that they can survive both floods and droughts.
States from Missouri to Iowa to Wisconsin saw record flooding last year, with thousands of homes damaged by water. The residual effect this year could be a proliferation of household pests that thrive in damp conditions, such as silverfish and spiders.
Moisture also increases the odds for termite invasions, especially in Midwestern states such as Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. The southern parts of the Northern states, such as Wisconsin and Minnesota, may also have enhanced termite pressure.
In the colder northern tier, carpenter ants are a greater threat to homeowners. Carpenter ants – which are one of the larger ant species in the United States – prefer to nest in trees to people's homes, but they'll come inside to nest if they can't find enough wood outside.
There are plenty of other ants in the Midwest, including the invasive "odorous house ant," so named because it smells like a rotten coconut if it's smashed. While this ant and other related species are medically harmless, their large population numbers allow them to be important nuisance pests.
"Ants are omnivores, which mean they'll eat plants or meat. When they invade our homes, they eat mostly whatever they can find," Davis said. "They'll eat the dog's food, the cat's food and your food too, if they can get inside the pantry."
The pest that is attracting the most attention along the East Coast is an ancient enemy – the bed bug. After centuries of tormenting people across the globe, the bed bug was believed to be virtually eliminated from the United States by the end of the 1960s.
Now it is back and New York and other Eastern cities have been especially hard hit. The reason? Scientists aren't exactly sure, but they suspect one cause is the rise in international travel to countries where bed bugs are still prevalent. The theory is that travelers carry bed bugs into America in their luggage.
Backing up that theory is the fact that many hotels – even some with five stars – have been invaded by the tiny blood-suckers. So have thousands of apartments and houses. While many people associate bed bugs with filthy conditions, Davis said that's not true. "You can live in a tar-paper shack or a $10 million
mansion, and still end up with bed bugs," he said. To avoid a bed bug infestation, Davis said thoroughly inspect your luggage and lodgings during your travels. If you suspect an infestation, call a professional pest control expert . You can find a pest professional in your area by visiting TermidorHome.com.