Record-breaking December heat could have a huge impact on local wildlife

Weather & Traffic In-Depth

AUSTIN (KXAN) — This month’s unusually warm weather may have made heading outdoors a little more bearable, but people aren’t the only ones out enjoying the weather.

“I’ve been getting tons of mosquito complaints lately,” says entomologist Wizzie Brown with Texas A&M’s Agrilife Extension Service. “People were just like, ‘Its December, why are the mosquitoes out?’ and I’m like, ‘It’s 80 degrees, they’re gonna be out.’

Brown says that by this time of the year, many insects and animals should have already begun a process called “overwintering,” where they go dormant by either hibernating or seeking shelter.

“[Wildlife is] not going by calendar months, because they have no idea. They’re going by temperature, day length, how long the sun is shining and that sort of thing.”

When do insects start overwintering?

For the process to begin in insects, Brown says that average temperatures need to be in the lower forties.

Brown says that cold snaps may cause insects to seek shelter. They’ll go under mulch, dig under ground and even work their way into your home. “If it warms back up, then you’re going to have stuff emerging back out.”

What happens if animals don’t overwinter?

The most obvious answer is they would freeze, but even in warmer winters not overwintering can be bad. For animals that hibernate, warmer weather means less sleep.

A 2017 study in the Journal of Applied Ecology found that for every degree Celsius that lowest fall temperature increased, black bear hibernation was delayed by more than two days.

Having animals that overwinter out and about when they shouldn’t be could lead to starvation. For example: bees. “They store honey to survive the winter. So if they are more active during the winter time where there’s not as much nectar, if those bees aren’t fed, then that could be a problem.”

A warmer December could also cause trees to bloom later, which could further endanger insect life. “If they’re not having those plants bloom at the same time that insects are emerging, then that can cause kind of mismatched pollination.”

Long term, Brown says the weather could impact the wildlife population in the spring. We may see fewer bees, but more yellow jackets, a species that thrives in warmer winters.

Brown says don’t expect the change to be permanent. “Mother Nature has her way. Things are going to be okay. It’ll all even out and the insects will survive.”

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