Insect populations in Michiana impacted by subzero temperatures during polar vortex

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GOSHEN, Ind. (WNDU) - The extreme temperatures we faced during the polar vortex likely killed off a good portion of invasive insects in our area.

The downside is, it may also have affected beneficial insects as well.

“A good aspect of a polar vortex is that it kills off bad insects like mosquitoes, for example,” said Dr. Andrew Ammons, associate biology professor at Goshen College. “Though they’re able to hibernate in sewage lines and sewage networks in the winter, when we have really subzero temps, it kills them off pretty well.”

Ammons says insects that overwinter in the egg or larval states can survive brutal temperatures; but insects like honeybees, that overwinter as adults, have a harder time surviving.

There are positive and negative effects. For example, fewer mosquitoes mean there’s less risk for diseases like the West Nile virus.

“Some of the bad things would be that it also knocks down the good bugs, and so things like honeybees, other types of lady beetles that actually eat other types of pests like aphids that are out in crops, those populations might get knocked down,” Ammons said. “The honeybees that pollinate our food supply and flowers and produce honey, their populations will get knocked down.”

Ammons is a beekeeper, and when he loses a majority of his honeybee population in harsh winters, he orders honeybees and queens from down south to recover his population.

And as many know, insects find a way to make a quick comeback.

“By and large, a lot of those effects are pretty transient,” Ammons said. “So, unless we have really, really bad winters year after year or really, really mild winters year after year, those populations tend to kind of recover and replace each other pretty quickly. If the long-term trends change, that’s what you have to worry about – the long-term climate change.”

On a larger scale, Ammons says entomologists are concerned with the rapidly declining insect populations across the world.

A recent global research paper suggested the majority of insects could become extinct in the next century.