Spring-like temperatures in late winter will mean one thing for Arkansans in the outdoors: prepared to be bitten early and often.
Kelly Loftin, Extension entomologist for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, rattled off a list of insects thriving in the early season warmth: ticks, black flies, fire ants, mosquitoes, fleas and true armyworms.
“Early higher temps make the insects more active than usual,” he said.
“We’ll see an earlier occurrence of ticks because of the warm weather,” he said. The upside is “that doesn’t equate with a greater abundance of ticks.”
The top ticks on the most-likely-to-encounter list are the lone star tick and the American dog tick.
“The American dog tick has been associated with bobcat fever and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.”
The Gulf Coast tick, relatively new to Arkansas, is one that Arkansas entomologists and public health officials have been watching. “They’ve been investigated as a vector of Rickettsia parkeri that causes a disease with symptoms similar to Rocky Mountain spotted fever.”
- Black flies.
It’s hard to live in Arkansas, spend time outside and not have experienced the bite of the black fly, known in two forms as turkey gnats and buffalo gnats. Loftin said he’s already received calls on buffalo gnats.
“We may see them earlier due to the early warm temperatures.”
The insects prefer running, swift-moving water, and with the plentiful rain this winter, there will be no shortage of black fly breeding grounds in much of the state.
“Turkey gnats come later, in April. Last year, we had turkey gnats into May and maybe June. The buffalo gnat population will get knocked down; when the water temperatures warm, they cease development.”
- Fire ants.
Red imported fire ants also thrive in the warmer temperatures.
“I’m getting more and earlier calls about fire ants this year,” Loftin said. “I’ve seen some colonies that are active, but not yet foraging, in Fort Smith. In South Arkansas, there are readily visible mounds and they seem to be doing quite well.”
If Arkansas suffers drought as it did last year, “we probably won’t notice them as much until the rains come back in the fall.”
- ‘Skeeters’ and fleas
The mosquito population will depend on the amount of standing water, he said. Many parts of southern Arkansas are still short on soil moisture, so even the 2-5 inches being predicted with the March 8-11 rain in southwest Arkansas might not work out for mosquitoes.
“If it’s a slow rain, we might not see a tremendous increase in standing water,” Loftin said.
Loftin said he was getting calls on fleas too. “A lot of our critters are a little bit earlier than normal. What makes it so noticeable is that it’s such a contrast from this time last year, when we were still dealing with two feet of snow at Fayetteville.”
- True armyworms
Turfgrass pros, livestock and homeowners all dislike armyworms because of their appetite for grass. Fall armyworms were an issue last year, lighting on irrigated pastures and lawns as drought shriveled other food. True armyworms are springtime grass-munchers.
“We’ve got some calls about true army worms in some athletic fields in southwestern Arkansas,” Loftin said. “And in central Arkansas, we’ve identified true army worms in some rye grass.
“It’s really early for them. Generally, we don’t expect them to be much of an issue until spring.”
Arkansans spending time in the outdoors should take the usual precautions – wearing light-colored clothing; tucking pants legs into boots, using insect repellent according to label directions and checking the skin, once inside, to ensure there are no hitchhikers.
For more information on insects, contact your county agent or visit www.uaex.edu.