Bugs are bold against the winter cold

A few days of sub-freezing temperatures isn’t enough to kill most household or farm insects, Jefferson County Cooperative Extension Service Acting Staff Chair Lee Anderson II said Wednesday.

Some area residents were hopeful that below-freezing temperatures between Sunday and Wednesday might result in a reduction of dirt-burrowing insects, but Anderson said despite some single-digit readings during the spell, most of the bugs have survived. Eleven to 13 consecutive days of sub-freezing weather is necessary to kill the insects, which are commonly nesting at around 6 inches under the ground’s surface while waiting to emerge to warmer temps.

“We’ll have cold spells here, but Pine Bluff doesn’t get the dramatically cold weather that other locations experience for much of the winter,” Anderson said. “Insects typically slow their movement when cold begins to hit and stop completely when it’s a rock-hard, solid freeze. A simple cold spell shakes them up, and they will burrow deeper until winter breaks.

“Some insects actually migrate to warmer weather,” Anderson said. “Fleas will get on animals and humans to survive. If they get on a house pet or person and enter a residence, the warm house becomes an incubator for them. But for the fleas who don’t make it inside, a freeze is fatal.”

According to information provided by Anderson, most insects don’t develop or function well at temperatures below 50 degrees. When readings remain between 32 and 50 degrees, insects tend to enter a dormant state in which body functions are greatly slowed.

Insects that are unable to avoid cold weather have two survival mechanisms. The first is that insects are cold-blooded and do not regulate their own temperatures. This is a disadvantage to insects that want to warm themselves but also a huge advantage because their bodies can tolerate a wide range of body temperatures. Even though they may become inactive, as long as they avoid freezing, most can wait until temperatures warm up again and then resume activity.

The other mechanism is an insect’s ability to enter diapause, a state of hibernation. During the diapause period, which can endure for several months, the insect doesn’t eat, drink, grow or move, so it expends no energy.

A primarily industrial chemical compound called Tempo is also a good choice for home insect control, Anderson said. He recommended spreading Tempo around the perimeter of a house to send a message to the critters that they’re not wanted there.