Even the fleas feel winter's bite

If you can get past the chapped lips, brown grass and sinkholes, the hard freeze that numbed the bay area this week has an upside: fewer fleas, according to University of Florida entomologists.

The survival and development of insects depend on warm temperatures, said entomology professor Eileen Buss.

"When outdoor temperatures get cold, they either die or go into a resting state, which doesn't kill them but just makes them stop until they warm up again," she said.

The recent temperatures probably knocked back populations of fleas, ticks and ants, agreed Faith Oi, an assistant extension scientist at the university.

But don't go skipping your pet's flea medication just yet. Oi said many of the insects that die outdoors could still be alive indoors, where the temperature is warmer. An infestation inside still needs to be treated.

Outside, some fleas may have survived, especially those that hadn't yet emerged from cocoons, Oi said. They'll join us when the weather warms up.

The cold temperatures could even kill the indomitable cockroach. Those outside would have been vulnerable, she said.

Fire ants, with ample warning, might have burrowed into warmer soil. But those in mounds dotting your yard likely died. Unlike bugs up North, they would not have been prepared by a chilly fall, said entomology professor Russ Mizell.

While queen wasps may be safe in their nests, the minions flying around outside probably didn't make it, Oi said.

Neither did the fly in your garbage can.

Many bees die when exposed to cold temperatures, too.

"If you've got bees that didn't have a lot to eat — they use honey as insulation — cold weather kills them," said Tommy Duggar, president of the Florida Beekeepers Association and owner of Duggar's Apiaries in Bristol.

Duggar said the freeze also killed blooms on plants, leaving little for surviving bees to eat during the past week, something that could hurt honey production in the long run.

This vacation from bugs won't last long, the scientists say.

For insects that feed on dead and decaying trees, such as termites, freezing temperatures will have prepared a feast.

"The insects acting as recyclers will have a field day," Mizell said.

And the fleas? The wasps?

By late spring and early summer, they'll all be back on track.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Shelley Rossetter can be reached at (813) 226-3374 or srossetter@sptimes.com.

Even the fleas feel winter's bite 01/12/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 12, 2010 11:22pm]

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