Winter Bad for Bugs, Good for Crops

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If you think the cold temperatures this winter have been unbearable, you're not alone. If you're feeling it, chances are insects are feeling it too.

"Insects can't tolerate extremely cold temperatures any more than we can," said MSU Entymologist Ned Walker. "So our insect population some of them will suffer mortality due to the sustained low temperatures we're seeing now."

Insects can cope with the cold. Normally they hibernate and some make types of antifreeze to get them through the winter. Others can freeze and then start crawling around once thawed.

"Our insects are with us and they've lived through winters in the past," Walker said. "So we're not going to see an elimination of insects by any means but some populations will be reduced this year."

Mosquitos, moths, and the pesky Emerald Ash Borer are all vulnerable, Walker said.

"And a lot of our insects, besides being pests are very important," said Walker. They're pollinators, they serve as prey for other animals so it's not a desirable impact by any means to be rid of our insects. They're part of our environment."

Fewer insects is good news for farmers though, said Bob Boehm of the Michigan Farm Bureau, and so is the moisture in the soil from all the snow.

Pools of water from a December ice storm may threaten some crops and grapes could be vulnerable, he said. But most crops have yet to be planted and the snow provides insulation to winter wheat that's already been growing.

"Overall I think we're going to weather this pretty well," he said. "Actually I think this is more of a typical winter that farmers have been waiting for for a while."

The work has been a bit harder for Ben Tirrell, who raises sheep and cows on his farm in Charlotte, but he doesn't expect the cold to cause any harm to his yield or his animals.

"I think there's a tendency for people to put human comfort conditions on animals and in reality these animals have four inches of very thick wool," he said. "They're very comfortable in cold conditions."

Tirrell is upping the feed for his cattle to give them a little more energy and is using heat lamps to warm some of his lambs. But for the most part, he says, the animals keep themselves warm.

"We've blocked off a lot of the openings here in the barn as best we can and then we bring the animals in so that their body heat and the body heat of the rest of the animals will actually raise the temperature of this barn to about freezing even on a cold night," he said. "And I don't think that they have suffered any more than you or I have during this cold spell."

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