MARCH
1990

 

 

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

03-23-90

ON THE WINDS OF SPRING

Ah, the southerly breezes of spring!  Those warm and sometimes turbulent air masses signal that Old Man Winter is losing his grip for another year.

Spring breezes seem to spontaneously generate children with kites, enthusiastic and overly optimistic gardeners, April showers, and hordes of insects.  But the winds of spring also bring the promise of teeming multitudes of insects.  Flying, jumping, crawling, sucking, munching insects.

To some insects, the onset of spring is merely a signal to emerge from their winter hiding places and begin the frenzy of inset activity associated with summer.  To other insects, however, the spring weather fronts actually provide transportation to summer feeding grounds.

Many insects cannot overwinter in northern areas, but they survive very well in the more moderate temperatures of the Gulf Coast states.  As the spring weather fronts begin to generate, they pick up more than moisture from the Gulf.  The fronts also pick up insects that happen to be flying around at the time as well as those insects that are waiting to catch a ride northward. 

Many spring weather systems are loaded with insects.  In fact, so common are insects in weather fronts that they have become known as the plankton of the air.

Observers have noted that some of the insects fly backwards. These insects, which are actually being carried, flap their wings only enough to keep aloft during the trip.  As the weather systems weaken, these passengers, like rain, are dumped rather unceremoniously from the sky.

Some of the common insect pests are weather-front hitchhikers.  Many aphids, sometimes known as plant lice, come into the Midwest astride a storm.  Leafhoppers, including the potato leafhopper, a pest of alfalfa, also arrive on the wings of a storm.

While aphids and leafhoppers are rather small insects, some larger ones also pick up a ride on the southern zephyr.  One major pest of gardens and field crops is the black cutworm, which in the adult stage is a moth nearly an inch in length.  This moth isn't at all bashful about spending the winter in the sunny south and then taking the first spring weather front to points further north.

This year, as she has done in the past, Mother Nature will most likely bestow on us one of her famous spring downpours.  When she does, some will be tempted to say that it is raining cats and dogs.  The truth of the matter is that it's likely raining aphids, leafhoppers and cutworms!

Comforting thought, isn't it.

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Olivia Maddox