Master beekeeper Moira Alexander, of Smithtown, maintains the apiary at...

Master beekeeper Moira Alexander, of Smithtown, maintains the apiary at Bethpage State Park in Farmingdale on Friday. Credit: Barry Sloan

Long Island's clement winter may have jump-started the arrival of native and foreign critters that fly, crawl or bite as insects from the South are finding the warmth in the North to their liking.

“There is evidence that the ranges of some insects have shifted north with the warmer climate,” Matthew Schlesinger, chief zoologist of the New York Natural Heritage Program, wrote by email.

Invaders include the frightful — the Gulf Coast tick and the southern pine beetle — and the attractive, like many dragonfly species and butterflies, including the black-and-yellow winged giant swallowtail butterfly, North America's largest.

“It’s true that due to warming winters, some insects and arthropods [ticks] emerge earlier than in history,” Jody L. Gangloff-Kaufmann, a Cornell University entomologist and New York State integrated pest management community coordinator, wrote by email.

Ticks, possible disease carriers, not only survive winters, but gardeners already are encountering them.

“It’s like Nature’s calendar,” said Gangloff-Kaufmann, as plants, reptiles and mammals all coordinate their arrivals.

Or else, some, like bees, “may miss out on critical nutrition,” she said, echoing concerns of the Island’s gardeners, farmers and vintners.

As winter's reign ends and the days lengthen, setting off chemical cues — sunshine brings out the insects.

Long Island's midges, whose larvae winter in pond bottoms, and small moths are among the creatures already flying about. 

“They are probably about a couple of weeks early for sure; they are primed to be active when it’s warm enough and it’s certainly been warm enough,” said Douglas Futuyma, distinguished professor emeritus of Stony Brook University's Department of Ecology & Evolution. 

Similarly, the beehives have begun buzzing at Bethpage State Park and the Farmingdale State College's teaching gardens.

The native butterfly that usually appears first, the maroon blue-spotted mourning cloak, has yet to show, however. Said Futuyma: "That is to me some indication that things aren't wildly abnormal." 

Untangling how flora and fauna interact — as Earth warms — is complicated indeed. 

“Climate change may lead to changes in the established range of insect populations in different areas, however, large increases in a population of a specific insect are unlikely to be tied to just one environmental factor, such as temperature," the state Department of Agriculture, which battles destructive insects like cherry fruit and spotted lantern flies, said in a statement.

Different species fend off cold in different ways.

"Some expel all the water out of their bodies to prevent freezing, and some use a type of insect-produced antifreeze to prevent them from freezing to death," Tracy Leskey, a supervisory research entomologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, wrote by email.

Others may be “freeze-tolerant.” Or, like hibernating grizzlies, slow their metabolisms. 

In terms of hardiness: “A fair number of these insects already are adapted to the weather at this time of year, which is very erratic,” said Futuyma, who sees no “dramatic change” in the cast of insects. 

Still, the rapid declines of so many insect species — an apocalypse to some — is vivified by the lack of "bug spatter" on car windshields. 

Whether mosquitoes — also potential disease carriers — are more abundant this year, explained Elizabeth Brown, an Austin-based extension program specialist at Texas A&M University, depends partly on rainfall — and whether standing pools of water are emptied or become breeding spots.

"That's really going to be based on what type of mosquito and water levels," she said, and it is far easier to kill them before they can fly.

One way to keep ticks away, she said, is by being vigilant about never leaving food outside that might attract animals they prey on.

These sorts of pests may have few fans — yet she cautioned against "good" or "bad" categories. "You also have to take into account where the insect is located and what it is doing," she said. Termites, for example, are helpful if chomping on dead trees — but not houses. 

And remember, Brown urged, insects like caterpillars grow up to become butterflies. "Just because you have something feeding on a plant, you may want to sort of educate yourself on what it turns out be, so you don't inadvertently kill something when those are something you want to see later on."

Long Island's clement winter may have jump-started the arrival of native and foreign critters that fly, crawl or bite as insects from the South are finding the warmth in the North to their liking.

“There is evidence that the ranges of some insects have shifted north with the warmer climate,” Matthew Schlesinger, chief zoologist of the New York Natural Heritage Program, wrote by email.

Invaders include the frightful — the Gulf Coast tick and the southern pine beetle — and the attractive, like many dragonfly species and butterflies, including the black-and-yellow winged giant swallowtail butterfly, North America's largest.

“It’s true that due to warming winters, some insects and arthropods [ticks] emerge earlier than in history,” Jody L. Gangloff-Kaufmann, a Cornell University entomologist and New York State integrated pest management community coordinator, wrote by email.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Winter 2023’s balmy temperatures and little snowfall may have enticed insects — from pollinating bees to turf-munching aphids — to get an earlier-than-spring start on Long Island.
  • As excess greenhouse gases warm Earth, various species of insects are migrating north to the metropolitan area, which had been too cold.
  • Car windshields, which no longer get covered in “bug spatter,” are one sign that insect populations around the globe have plummeted.

Ticks, possible disease carriers, not only survive winters, but gardeners already are encountering them.

“It’s like Nature’s calendar,” said Gangloff-Kaufmann, as plants, reptiles and mammals all coordinate their arrivals.

Or else, some, like bees, “may miss out on critical nutrition,” she said, echoing concerns of the Island’s gardeners, farmers and vintners.

As winter's reign ends and the days lengthen, setting off chemical cues — sunshine brings out the insects.

Long Island's midges, whose larvae winter in pond bottoms, and small moths are among the creatures already flying about. 

Beehives buzzing

“They are probably about a couple of weeks early for sure; they are primed to be active when it’s warm enough and it’s certainly been warm enough,” said Douglas Futuyma, distinguished professor emeritus of Stony Brook University's Department of Ecology & Evolution. 

Similarly, the beehives have begun buzzing at Bethpage State Park and the Farmingdale State College's teaching gardens.

The native butterfly that usually appears first, the maroon blue-spotted mourning cloak, has yet to show, however. Said Futuyma: "That is to me some indication that things aren't wildly abnormal." 

Untangling how flora and fauna interact — as Earth warms — is complicated indeed. 

“Climate change may lead to changes in the established range of insect populations in different areas, however, large increases in a population of a specific insect are unlikely to be tied to just one environmental factor, such as temperature," the state Department of Agriculture, which battles destructive insects like cherry fruit and spotted lantern flies, said in a statement.

'Freeze-tolerant' bugs

Different species fend off cold in different ways.

"Some expel all the water out of their bodies to prevent freezing, and some use a type of insect-produced antifreeze to prevent them from freezing to death," Tracy Leskey, a supervisory research entomologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, wrote by email.

Others may be “freeze-tolerant.” Or, like hibernating grizzlies, slow their metabolisms. 

In terms of hardiness: “A fair number of these insects already are adapted to the weather at this time of year, which is very erratic,” said Futuyma, who sees no “dramatic change” in the cast of insects. 

Abundant mosquitoes?

Still, the rapid declines of so many insect species — an apocalypse to some — is vivified by the lack of "bug spatter" on car windshields. 

Whether mosquitoes — also potential disease carriers — are more abundant this year, explained Elizabeth Brown, an Austin-based extension program specialist at Texas A&M University, depends partly on rainfall — and whether standing pools of water are emptied or become breeding spots.

"That's really going to be based on what type of mosquito and water levels," she said, and it is far easier to kill them before they can fly.

One way to keep ticks away, she said, is by being vigilant about never leaving food outside that might attract animals they prey on.

These sorts of pests may have few fans — yet she cautioned against "good" or "bad" categories. "You also have to take into account where the insect is located and what it is doing," she said. Termites, for example, are helpful if chomping on dead trees — but not houses. 

And remember, Brown urged, insects like caterpillars grow up to become butterflies. "Just because you have something feeding on a plant, you may want to sort of educate yourself on what it turns out be, so you don't inadvertently kill something when those are something you want to see later on."

Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland. The conversation continues on newsday.com/nextli where we invite Long Islanders to share their experiences on this looming crisis of changing weather patterns, flooding, shoreline protection, home buyouts and more to find potential solutions for the region’s future.

Paying the Price: Long Island's stormy future Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland.

Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland. The conversation continues on newsday.com/nextli where we invite Long Islanders to share their experiences on this looming crisis of changing weather patterns, flooding, shoreline protection, home buyouts and more to find potential solutions for the region’s future.

Paying the Price: Long Island's stormy future Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland.

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