Hot temps bring out the bugs

COVINGTON -- Is it March or July? With spring still a couple of days away, temperatures have already hit the 80s, and meteorologists are predicting the heat will remain for a while.

The National Weather Service's outlook for spring, which arrived early with 577 warm temperature records broken last Wednesday, predicts mostly warmer and drier-than-normal weather, except in the Northwest.

The current summer-like weather -- with some temperatures as much as 35 degrees above normal -- is expected to stick around through this week.

The unusually warm weather means bugs are out and about earlier than usual, Rockdale County Extension Coordinator Jule-Lynne Macie said.

"Insects are cold-blooded; they're only able to move when it's warm outside. They've been there all winter but they've not been moving around because it's cooler," Macie said.

Now that it's warmer, however, bugs are on the prowl.

Macie said the Rockdale Extension Service is being inundated with calls from people reporting hundreds and even thousands of nuisance pests, like ladybugs, kudzu bugs and boxelder bugs, on their walls.

"Seal cracks and crevices so they can't get in the house. They're nuisance pests so they're not doing any damage or eating anything in the house, but it's kind of creepy when that many are all together," Macie said.

Squashing ladybugs can leave an orange stain, and for those who are superstitious, is also said to bring bad luck. Kudzu bugs are relatives of the stink bug and if squashed, release an odor.

"The most organic way to deal with it is to grin and bear it," Macie said, adding that when the night-time temperatures become warmer, the bugs will start heading outdoors. Alternately, there are in-home chemical sprays that can be used, although it requires many applications if there are hundreds or thousands of bugs to kill, she said.

"The numbers are so high, it seems like it's not being effective, but it really is," she said.

Macie added that it's not true that cold winter weather kills insects.

"Insects have the ability to shut their systems down, almost like in stasis. A cold winter doesn't really kill insects. That's one of those myths," she said, adding that there won't be more bugs than usual due to the unseasonably warm weather -- they'll just be out sooner.

Plant owners should be on the lookout for lace bugs and euonymus scale insects that will suck the sap out of plants like azaleas. These bugs develop a waxy coat on their bodies and appear to be raised bumps on the stems or leaves of plants. Look for sprays with imidacloprid as an active ingredient to kill these pests, or, for a more organic option, try horticultural oil, Macie suggested.

"Read the label before you put it out so you know how to do it properly," she said. "I get a lot of calls on Friday asking is it OK if I do this over the weekend and a lot of calls on Monday asking is it OK that I did this over the weekend. Friday calls are better."

Gardeners should not get too anxious to plant early, Macie said, noting that the last frost date for this part of the country is April 15.

"It's not the air temperature that's important, it's the soil temperature. As far as planting gardens, nighttime temperatures have not been warm like (daytime) so the soil is not heating up. Don't put it in the ground until mid-April or after," she said.

The same is true for lawn fertilization.

"People want to be outside working in the yard, buying fertilizers for their lawns," but warm-season grasses like bermuda, centipede and zoysia will die if fertilized before late April, Macie said.

While trees are blooming on schedule, some weeds are out earlier producing bothersome pollen, she added.

The same conditions that made the winter so snowless and mild are likely to keep spring warm and dry, said Ed O'Lenic, operations branch chief at the Climate Prediction Center. That's heavily influenced by the Arctic Oscillation, a northern cousin to the more well-known El Nino weather phenomenon. The Arctic Oscillation has kept storms and cold bottled far up north, making it milder and drier in much of the country.

While meteorologists can't connect a single weather event -- like the unusual heat outbreak going on in much of the country -- these types of extremes will happen more often and become more likely as the world's climate changes from man-made global warming, according to O'Lenic and climate scientists.

Spring has started so early that weather forecasters are working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta to see if there is a way to monitor diseases that come from pests that would arrive earlier and stay longer because of warmer weather.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.