Ants may thrive due to mild winter

COVINGTON -- This year's mild winter may cause some insects to be more populous than usual, but for others, it won't matter much at all.

Ants could be a problem this spring and summer, as winter temperatures have not dropped low enough to kill large numbers.

"We've not had any real freezing weather that actually froze the ground. It just hasn't happened," said Newton County Extension Agent Ted Wynne. "We can look forward to just as many ants if not more."

Wynne said ants are tempted to come near the soil surface when there are warm spells. If that's followed by a cold front, some will die.

"You can actually start to see ant mounds where ants have a graveyard outside the mound. They're pretty good stewards of their columns, so to speak. They take them out of the colonies to get them away from surviving members," he said.

Other insects, like mosquitoes, are more impacted by rainfall than temperature, he said. It's important to keep a watch on anything around the yard or patio that could hold standing water and keep it emptied out, he said.

"Just a few mosquitoes can really translate into a lot of them really quick," he said.

A warmer than usual winter can also result in an increase in the tick population. Wynne said he started getting complaints about ticks as early as March last year.

But overall, warm winters don't have that much impact on the insect world.

"My philosophy is that insects have been dealing with cold weather for longer than we have -- and they're better at it than we humans are," said Nancy C. Hinkle, professor of entomology at the University of Georgia. "A really harsh winter might reduce numbers somewhat, but within a couple of generations -- by June or July -- we won't be able to tell the difference."

Wynne said some insects, like aphids that destroy wheat crops, can survive very cold temperatures. "They have what is sort of like antifreeze in their bodies," he said.

Others, come warm weather in Georgia, migrate north from Florida where they've thrived during the warm winter.

Wynne recommended homeowners, gardeners and farmers just keep a watch for signs of insect invasion. "We don't recommend preventatives such as insecticides," he said. Once an infestation occurs, there are organic products that can address the problem, he said.

"If you start seeing them, then we need to do something about them, but if they're not there this year, don't do anything," he said.