Ticks, mosquitoes and other pests may be especially abundant and invasive this spring in the Northeast, according to the Bug Barometer, a bi-annual report produced by the National Pest Management Association. Released late last week, this countrywide pest forecast was created by a team of NPMA entomologists based on winter conditions, long-term weather predictions and knowledge about pest biology and behavior.
“It’s not an exact science,” Michael Bentley, staff entomologist at NPMA, said in a recent phone interview. “We can’t say there’s going to be exactly 13 ticks that will pop up on this day and time. These are educated predictions.”
Established in 1933, NPMA is a nonprofit organization with more than 7,000 members from around the world. The organization’s mission is for households and businesses across the country to be protected by professional pest management services.
For the Northeast, the Bug Barometer states that “higher tick populations may result from the unseasonably warm winter. A cooler spring may drive occasional invaders like earwigs into homes in search of warmth. Heavy spring showers could also increase standing water, creating ideal conditions for mosquitoes to thrive.”
However, Maine pest experts caution for people to take such broad predictions about future pest populations and behavior with a grain of salt.
“I think it’s an interesting general idea of what could happen,” Griffin Dill, integrated pest management professional for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, said. “On a local level, even as far as a state level, I don’t know how much weight [the Bug Barometer] really holds. There are so many different aspects that go into whether we are going to have a lot of ticks and mosquitoes.”
As an example of how predictions can be easily derailed, Dill pointed to just last year.
“We assumed that going into the summer of 2016, since we had this mild winter, that we were potentially going to see a lot of tick activity,” Dill said. “And then of course, last summer, we ended up having relatively drastic drought conditions for much of the Northeast and we actually saw diminished tick activity [because ticks easily dry out and die in drought conditions].”
In addition to environmental conditions, pest experts throughout the country are looking at how certain mammal populations — namely mice and deer — might affect the abundance of ticks in different regions.
Preparing for the inevitable
Regardless of whether the Bug Barometer’s ominous predictions come true, springtime in Maine always means the emergence of certain pests, including mosquitoes, black flies, ticks, ants, earwigs and noseeums. At the end of the day, does it really matter if there are a few more or less than average?
“If we normally have 10 million mosquitoes, is it really going to be that much more noticeable if we have 15 million or 5 million?” Dill asked. “We’re going to have a base level of pests out there that we always do have. What’s a good year versus a bad year is kind of a relative thing. If I spend my time outside and am constantly bitten by mosquitoes, I might say it was a bad year. If I stay inside most of the time, I might say it’s a good year. It’s really on such a personal level.”
That said, people can do a few things around their homes that will reduce the presence and the negative impacts of pests. After all, April is National Pest Management Month.
To reduce the presence of mosquitoes on your property, eliminate areas of standing water, which mosquitoes require to reproduce. Clogged gutters, birdbaths and flooded plant pots are all potential breeding sites for mosquitoes.
“Something as small as a bottle cap can breed mosquitoes if water is left standing for five days,” Bentley said.
To prevent ants, earwigs and other invasive pests from entering your home this spring, make sure your house is properly sealed, with window screens in good condition and weather stripping around the doors, Bentley said.
And lastly, to reduce the presence of ticks on your property, keep up with lawnscaping. Keep your grass short and get rid of leaf piles. Deer ticks usually hide in tall grass, leaf litter and underbrush while waiting for a host to pass by. You don’t want to become that host.
Ticks aren’t going away
At this point, it’s common knowledge that ticks and tick-borne diseases are a problem in Maine, and that problem is only getting worse.
In 2016, a record of 1,400 cases of Lyme disease — an infection transmitted to humans by bacteria from deer tick bites — were reported in Maine, according to the 2017 Report to Maine Legislature Lyme and other Tick-borne Illnesses. This number has risen steadily since the first documented case of Maine-acquired Lyme disease was diagnosed in 1986.
“Certainly tick-borne disease is on the rise,” Dill said.
In addition to Lyme disease, a number of other tick-borne diseases are becoming more common in Maine. Chief among those diseases is anaplasmosis. In 2016, preliminary data shows 373 cases of anaplasmosis reported in Maine, which is a 100 percent increase from the 186 cases reported in 2015.
“Anaplasmosis cases have been almost doubling every year for the past three or four years,” Dill said.
In addition, the tick-borne disease called babesiosis is being found in Maine. In 2016, 83 cases of babesiosis were reported in the state, a notable increase from the 55 cases reported a year prior.
All three of these diseases — Lyme, anaplasmosis and babesiosis — are transmitted to humans by the deer tick, also known as the black-legged tick.
“We learn new things, literally, on a yearly basis, and find new pathogens ticks can transmit and carry on a yearly basis as well,” Dill said about tick research. “It’s interesting in that respect and also kind of scary in that respect. There’s a lot we do know, and a lot we don’t know.”
To learn about protecting yourself from ticks while spending time outdoors, and for more information about tick-borne diseases, visit the University of Maine Tick Identification Lab website at https://extension.umaine.edu/ipm/tickid/.