Gnat population on downswing
Washington County naturalist Pam Holz said that this year has been a strange year for wildlife so far. Not the least of which, she said, are the large population of gnats that have been abundant for the last several weeks.
Gnats will swarm until the water temperature warms enough for their eggs to hatch. Specific temperatures are required. Until then gnats need blood in order to ensure egg laying. While a nuisance for humans, the gnats can be harmful or fatal to livestock.
The large gnat population is only one unusual thing that has been seen in nature this year. Holz said that when she began seeing deer, they were much skinnier. She said that the general thought is that most deer, which are pregnant during the winter, would only have one fawn this year as opposed to two or three.
“I know we thought last year’s winter threw everything off, but this year’s has definitely been a lot harder,” she said. “We definitely saw it in the deer and it would not surprise me if we see it in other animals as well.”
She said she was hoping the pesky insect population would have been killed off by the cold snap, but once the weather began warming up, she began hearing reports of people seeing ticks.
“It is kind of interesting that people are beginning to see ticks who do not normally see ticks,” Holz said. “My first tick of the year I found in town on my car door on the way home from church.”
Holz believes ticks are adapting more to the urban environment and finding more places in the city to weather the winter. She said with a dry year, like the area has been having for the last several years, there will be fewer frogs, therefore more insects.
As the gnat population decreases, the mosquito population will begin to come out. Holz said the only thing proven effective against mosquitoes is DEET. She said that DEET is toxic and care must be taken when being applied. She also recommends against being out at dawn and dusk when they are most active.
She said it has been a hard year for many animals. She noticed that in Foster Woods this year rabbits had been chewing on bark well into April, a sign of starvation. This is a sign that it was too cold for too long. She said that the area usually begins warming up and greening in March.
Last winter she said that there had been several reports of bats in residences. The Washington County police log has reported many cases of bats being in residences. Holz said normally bats hibernate during the winter and only rarely wake up due to starvation.
“Basically what was happening is that it was so cold the bats were using up more fat reserves in order to get through the winter — that halfway through the winter those fat reserves were used up,” she said.
She said between the cold winter and disease, the bat population has dropped.