You may have found carpenter ants munching through the timbers of your house.
Or maybe you’ve been bitten by more mosquitoes than usual.
Or, perhaps it was a huge, angry nest of yellow jackets in a garage, basement or under your home’s eaves.
Whatever the first clue, chances are you might have noticed that this summer has been a bit heavy on bugs.
Or, shall we say, “pestier” than usual?
If you’ve had that thought, you could be right, according to bug experts around Western New York.
In Erie County, the Health Department has seen a spike in calls about bees and wasps, even though the department doesn’t handle those critters.
In Chautauqua County, health officials have noted what seem to be many more mosquitoes than usual.
And, if you ask local exterminators, some will tell you that not only is this a very busy summer for their companies – but that it’s the second such summer in a row.
“We’ve had two seasons in a row that we’ve had a lot of insects around,” said John Zimmerman, an owner and general manager of Buffalo Exterminating, which is based in Orchard Park but serves customers from Rochester to Jamestown.
“A lot of bees, a lot of wasps, a lot of ants,” he said.
Another pest remover, Andrew Kulyk of Cheektowaga, said he’s been swamped with calls about ants.
“Carpenter ants have been particularly bad this year,” said Kulyk, owner of Kulyk Exterminators, also known as “Bugbusters” – a company his father started in 1976.
“They thrive on moisture,” he said. “You have wet wood in houses – we have wood construction – and you have moisture outside, you’ll have a lot of colonies outside, and then they tend to move into houses.”
Zimmerman, who has 36 years of experience in pest control, offered a succinct theory for why the bug business is booming – and local residents are swatting, slapping and scratching more than usual.
It has to do with weather – not just the weather now, but over the past few winters.
“Partially, we believe that’s because we’ve had mild winters these last two winters,” Zimmerman said.
A very cold winter freezes – and kills – a lot of pests that overwinter in the Buffalo area, unless they are deeply buried in the ground or in a tree, he said.
That means populations of some bugs are naturally curbed in the cold weather months.
“If you have a really bad year, that kills a lot of overwintering insects, then there’s less of them in the springtime,” Zimmerman said.
That’s why – as you watch a team of carpenter ants chew through a board – you might think back to last winter.
“If you think of the last couple of winters, it’s been pretty good for bug seasons,” Zimmerman said.
At Kulyk Exterminators, Andrew Kulyk agreed.
“People are seeing it more in their houses,” he said. “It’s been an ongoing thing.”
“The season is extended to 12 months a year,” he added.
Kulyk said that besides a strong year for carpenter ants, he has been getting lots of calls from people with yellow-jacket nests in their homes and garages. In some cases, the pests are coming right into the homes of unsuspecting homeowners, he said.
“I’ve gotten calls where yellow jackets’ nests have come through the ceilings in houses. And they can sting,” Kulyk said.
“I’ve had more calls than usual like that,” he said of this summer. “We had two calls yesterday.”
“Yellow jackets were dropping through the ceiling.”
Kulyk said that homeowners sometimes try to solve the problem by closing up the hole made by the wasps or bees or yellow jackets on the outside of their home.
That makes the pests a threat to the home’s interior, he said.
“The worst thing a homeowner can do is wall up the hole,” Kulyk said. “The homeowner doesn’t realize they have to go somewhere – you’ve got 1,000 yellow jackets walled up in the house.”
On top of a mild winter, this summer we’ve had hot temperatures combined with a lot of rainfall in some parts of the season. June had rainfall totals that were roughly double the average totals for the month.
“I have seen a significant increase in the complaints we do get,” said Peter J. Tripi, senior public health sanitarian at the Erie County Department of Health. “And most likely, it is because of the weather patterns.”
Tripi said a “harsh winter” helps control populations of all kinds of pests – from ants to rats. On the other hand, he said, the reverse is also true.
“A warm winter with a warm early spring is good for rodents and insects,” Tripi said, “and not good for us.”
The effect of weather – and winter temperatures – on populations of pests is something county health workers keep an eye on, Tripi said
“We’ve seen this similar weather pattern since we’ve started tracking West Nile virus,” Tripi said. “We’ve seen similar patterns with mild winters, wet springs, warm summers ... We can almost even predict what’s going to happen.”
In Chautauqua County, the phenomenon has had a more serious side.
There, some populations of mosquitoes have tested positive not only for West Nile virus – a public health threat known to be in the area for years – but also for a virus that is new in the area, known as eastern equine encephalitis.
“Triple E” is the way Christine Schuyler, Chautauqua County’s director of public health, refers to the new virus – and she said it is an ominous one.
“Our main worry is Triple E, by far,” Schuyler said.
Mortality rates for Triple E are much more serious than for West Nile virus, Schuyler said. The equine virus has a mortality rate in humans of about 33 percent, she said, compared with a fraction of that for West Nile.
Out of the 25 mosquito pools in New York State that have tested positive for the equine virus, Schuyler said, 17 were in Chautauqua County.
“Right now, we are the leader in the state,” she said.
To attempt to control the problem, a spraying took place Sunday over 6,300 acres of land in the county, primarily in the towns of Carroll and Kiantone, said Schuyler, who is also director of the county’s department of health and human services.
Schuyler said the presence of the Triple E virus in Western New York – whether in an outlying area of the region or not – should be something that residents all over pay attention to.
“Whether you’ve had positive mosquito pools in your area or not, it’s really important to take precautions,” Schuyler said. “Having this happen here just heightens the awareness.”