As we drift into more spring-like conditions, there’s a price to pay.
The more we have balmy daytime temperatures and the less we receive nighttime temperatures near freezing, the more we trigger the annual bug resurgence.
Late winter is bleak, and most everybody likes to see nasty weather and the gloom associated with it go away. But our annual respite from aggravating insects and arachnids goes with it.
One of the first indicators that bugs are back in business nowadays is the appearance of those orange and black-spotted “lady bugs” around (and in) the house on mild days. These more properly are multi-colored Asian lady beetles, an exotic species.
When this happens, it’s because lady beetles came into the walls, crawl spaces or other cracks and crevices of the home back in the autumn. They were seeking shelter with moderated temperatures before winter’s onset.
Now with a warming trend, the beetles are emerging from winter torpor, moving back outdoors. When they stray all the way inside, it’s by accident. They don’t feed on people and they aren’t destructive. At worst, they may exude a little juice that will stain drapes or furniture if you squash them.
If all the bugs were as easy to live with as Asian lady beetles, life would be easy. One of the first developments in the new bug year, however, is a resurgence of ticks.
Freezing temperatures put ticks to bed back in the fall, and about now they are up and about again. For now, it’s sporadic. They vanish with a cold night, but easier temperatures and sunshine can have them stirring in leaf litter within hours.
Two varieties of ticks cause problems here: lone star and American dog ticks. The “deer” and “seed” ticks you hear about are only youngsters, the larvae of lone star ticks. Both species of ticks feed on the blood of other animals, including humans.
There’s something disgusting about a critter that crawls up your leg, latches on and feeds upon you by sucking your blood. The wound that this creates isn’t usually a big deal, mostly an itchy bump.
Yet, if a tick attaches, goes undetected and feeds for a day or so, there’s a chance of worse repercussions. Disease can be transmitted through tick bites. Odds are, any tick that bites you won’t carry them, but a tick attachment could result in Rocky Mountain spotted fever, southern tick-associated rash infection (STARI) or human ehrlichiosis.
There are other potential health ramifications from tick bites. Locally, one of those probably isn’t Lyme disease since ticks found here aren’t known capable of carrying that virus. Much more likely is a possible allergy to red meat resulting from the bite of certain lone star ticks.
Treatment of diseases imparted by our local ticks is simple enough, but untreated some of these maladies can be serious up to the point of killing you.
I wouldn’t avoid outdoor activities for fear of ticks, but to engage in such without precautions is dumb as dirt. Serious disease is a low odds thing, but there’s a good chance that ticks biting you could inflict some low-level misery that’s bad enough.
Insect repellent is the key. How much of it you use depends on your exposure level. If you’re going to be in leaf litter from which resurging ticks are coming, you might want heavy protection.
At a minimum level, you could spray clothing, especially shoes, socks and pant legs with a standard insect repellent based on DEET or Picaridin. I like Picaridin repellents as about equally effective as old reliable DEET, but unlike DEET, Picaridin doesn’t melt some plastics or irritate the skin as does the traditional active ingredient. It smells better, too.
For maximum protection, spray your clothing in advance with a permethrin repellent (which actually is an acaricide that kills ticks and other varmints). After that, it’s good for a few weeks and maybe three or four washings without losing its repelling quality.
Permethrin sprays bond with fabric but don’t work on skin, however. Top out your protection with Picaridin or DEET repellents on exposed skin.
Ticks can be bad at the first of the season. Chiggers come on a little slower, getting worse by summer. Precautions for ticks, however, are exactly what’s needed to fend off chiggers, so brace for one and you’re set for both.
Mosquitoes could be awful this year because of high water we’ve had. Flooding activates long-ago-laid eggs of floodwater mosquito species. They and the container mosquitoes that produce in tiny pockets of water around upland places could make this year a mosquito hell. (But in the right places, mosquitoes make every year a hellish time.)
Mosquitoes start off as annoying in early spring and get worse as the warm season advances. Repel them as you would ticks, making sure coverage is head to toe. Repellents of modest DEET or Picaridin content cover most mosquito-barrier needs, but permethrin on your clothing never hurts in the worst habitats.
It’s not a big deal, but bug resurgence includes spiders. That means anytime I walk between two trees, there will be a spider web stretched between them, unseen.
Later, when I’m sweating and pulling spider webs off my face, ticks are marching up my legs, chiggers are feeding around my ankles and crotch, and mosquitoes are humming in my ears, the cold gray days of February probably won’t sound so bad.
Steve Vantreese, a freelance outdoors writer, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.