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Insect dearth may be linked to climate

Is there any connection between the Indian summer we are having and the lack of flies, gnats, etc.? Usually we have flies trying desperately to get into the house, but this year we can keep the doors open and no flies. And when we barbecue, instead of yellowjackets trying to eat our food and mosquitoes eating us, we have it all to ourselves.

I also noticed that we don't have any gophers or moles this fall, and the birds must be on vacation or already headed South. Just wondering if there is any connection to the weather?

— Duane

Well, Duane, there just might be, with emphasis on the word "might."

Regarding what's bugging you (or not bugging you, in this case), we asked Jim Lunders, manager and biologist for the Jackson County Vector Control District. Here's his response:

"As you can imagine, insect production is highly variable from area to area and is affected by numerous factors, including temperature, humidity, day length, food availability, predator populations, etc. Oftentimes a person such as Duane will experience very few insects in their immediate area while someone living a few blocks away may be overrun.

"It is safe to say that most insect production was slightly down this year due to extended colder weather this spring, limiting the number of generations many species were able to produce. The dry summer also limited production of many species of insects, although it favored production of others. In general the district has seen calls for service just sightly below average for both mosquitoes and flies this season."

Regarding other critters, about the time your note arrived, we also received a phone call from a resident at the Rogue Valley Manor, who said there's a notable lack of robins there this year. We checked into that with Pepper Trail, a wildlife and forensic biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Trail said there are fewer robins around this year. He said that's likely the result of a poor year for madrone berries, which is a staple in robins' diets. That downturn in madrone berry production could be related to the warm, dry summer and fall, or could be just part of a cycle the tree goes through, he said.

He also said that because of the warmer weather, robins — and particularly migratory robins — may be staying longer at higher elevations this year. And he touched on your bug question as well, Duane, noting that populations of aquatic-oriented insects, such as mosquitoes, likely have been held down by the lack of precipitation.

Just to set your mind at ease, Trail said he's seen nothing to suggest that the reduced bird and bug population is linked to some widespread pattern across the country.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.