Action Line: Mild winter extends flea, tick activity
BY PHIL MULKINS World Action Line Editor
Monday, February 18, 2013
2/18/13 at 2:33 AM
The mild, no-hard-freeze winter is extending the active season for Oklahoma ticks, fleas and roaches with a nine-month season instead of six.
Justin Talley, associate professor of entomology at Oklahoma State University, said, "This winter was a little more of a winter than last winter as we've had more nights below freezing but is still not a 'hard winter.' Fleas and ticks are very 'host specific,' and any kind of weather that affects their hosts will affect pest populations.
"This is true more with fleas as they are not as hardy as ticks. Ticks survive colder temps longer without hosts than fleas. So we may see more of an influence (by the lack of freezing nights) on the flea population than on the tick population: fewer fleas without hosts have been frozen dead this winter than last winter.
"The American dog tick, lone star tick and the black-legged (deer) tick go through a 2-year life cycle including laying eggs spring and summer. Those laid in summer 2012 are surviving easier this winter and hatching now instead of two months from now," he said.
Now we are seeing the "deer tick" and the "winter tick" (its actual name) and it over-winters in horses and cattle to become our spring and summer ticks. When we don't have a hard winter the issue is not "more," per se, but the time they're out and biting is longer. Instead of an April-September tick season, we're expecting a February-October season.
Ticks are on hosts of some kind: ground-dwelling birds, possums, skunks, raccoons, domestic pets - US. Fleas and ticks need high humidity. In lawns, this is under bushes with established root systems - not out in the open lawn in full sun. They are attracted to shaded moisture - also where ground-dwelling rodents and birds congregate.
With fleas - the most common being the cat flea - it is unknown if a warmer winter will produce more fleas or just a longer season. Instead of March through October, the season might be February through November.
State licensed pest control operator Mark Christensen, manager of Midwest Pest Control, said recently customer calls show a rise in flea, tick and cockroach activity. Last spring, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture said it expected last summer to be "the biggest summer for bugs in recent memory." As we "haven't had a very strong winter that's probably just going to roll over into this spring and summer," Christensen said.
Bruce Peverley, Tulsa County Extension Agent for OSU Extension Service, said "soil temperature has never gotten cold enough, deep enough, to kill soil insects or their eggs."
"We're going into a warmer-than-normal spring and because of this we can expect - if we see a continuation of this more spring-like weather - the emergence of more insects at an earlier time than we would consider normal," Peverley said.
Original Print Headline: Mild winter extends bug activity
Phil Mulkins 918-699-8888
Ticks such as the black-legged tick, or deer tick, female (left) and male (right), may be more active for a longer period this year because of the relatively mild winter. Tulsa World file