The late-winter springlike temperatures that have prevailed in much of the U.S. this year may have one very negative side effect. Pests may show up earlier, and in greater numbers.
"The mild winter weather could have a ripple effect on pest activity," said Jim Warneke, Southeast division technical services manager for Orkin Pest Control. "Insects stay in a hibernation-like state during the winter since cold temperatures slow down their metabolism and reproduction cycles. But with the season's above-average temperatures, we could have larger numbers of ants, termites, cockroaches and mosquitoes this spring."
While most ants don't bite, they can be just as big a nuisance as mosquitoes. There are about 50 different ant species in the U.S. While many are just a nuisance, carpenter ants can infest homes and cause expensive structural damage.
Similar to termites
"Another common sign in the spring is a group of ants with wings which can be confused with termite swarms," said Warneke. "It's a common misconception because of their similar appearance. Correctly identifying an ant infestation determines the best treatment method."
When the temperature rises above 60 degrees, termites often swarm inside homes before moving outdoors to search for food and water. Termites are found in every state except Alaska and thrive in warm and humid climates.
Signs of an infestation can include termite swarms, mud tubes and piles of discarded wings. After the termites swarm — usually during warm spring days — they can shed their wings and leave behind piles of them.
Termites are attracted to light, so swarms are typically found around lighting fixtures and windowsills. Mud tubes act as a protective tunnel and provide moisture for the termites. The mud tubes are about the size of a pencil and usually run vertically on the inside or outside of a building's foundation.
Cockroaches are a hardy pest and therefore, hard to get rid of. They pick up germs on their legs and bodies and can spread disease, contaminate food and cause allergies and asthma. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cockroaches can also carry organisms that cause diarrhea, dysentery, cholera, typhoid fever and viral diseases.
"Cockroaches burrow in mulch or bark for the winter," said Warneke. "But since the ground temperature has been warmer, cockroaches probably stayed near the ground's surface, and we could possibly have larger numbers this spring."
Because cockroaches are nocturnal, if you see one during the day, that means they were likely forced out by overcrowding—a possible sign of a severe infestation.
There are things you can do to make your home a less-attractive target for insect pests. Remove all unnecessary food and water sources. Seal cracks and crevices around doors and windows. Clean up spilled food and drinks immediately.
Outside, keep gutters clear, and direct water from downspouts away from your home.
Thin out vegetation and do not pile mulch or allow soil to accumulate against your home's siding. This could provide a breeding ground for mosquitoes and access for ants, cockroaches and termites to enter your home.
Pay close attention to dirt-filled porches and crawlspaces. Termites could have easy access to wood through cracks in foundation walls or if wood is in contact with the soil.