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Mild spring and flooding means more ticks, mosquitoes

August 03, 2013 at 09:16 AM

Peoria Journal Star

PEORIA - The lasting effects of this spring, which came in like a lamb and went out like a lion, have made a heyday for Peoria's ticks, mosquitoes and other wildlife.

While this winter brought colder days than that of 2011-12, the mild spring, coupled with the worst flooding Peoria has seen in decades, created some abnormal conditions for the area's wildlife population. Mosquitoes were out in force earlier in the summer thanks to the pools of standing water left from April's rain, and the Asian Tiger variety - late bloomers compared to their common cousins - should peak this month as the rain and humidity continue.

"Standing water you have in your yard, we definitely say keep that at bay if at all possible, and keep your gutters clean," advises Amanda Cothron, owner of Mosquito Authority, a bug spray service. "All the flooding we had this year, that has increased them tremendously."

The Mosquito Authority has been kept busy on dry days spraying homes and event venues to keep the insects at bay for fees ranging from $35 to $90.

Another of nature's bloodsuckers likely benefited from the mild winter, said Brian Allan, an entomology assistant professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign: American dog ticks, which carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

There were 151 instances of insect-related illness reported to the Illinois Department of Public Health in 2012, up from 51 in 2011. While this year's figures are preliminary, there have been 39 cases to date.

"Sometimes you need to wear pants or stick your pants in the top of your socks," said state health department entomologist Linn Haramis. "It looks silly, but it's important if you go into some of these areas."

While people have been taking precautions against problem insects, many nature lovers have been lamenting sparse butterfly sightings.

Monarch populations have dwindled and last year's drought didn't bode well for this summer, said Frank Hitchell, entomology section leader for the Peoria Academy of Science.

However, they are beginning to bounce back, he said, and Forest Park Nature Center is preparing to start tracking populations in its preserve and inside a new butterfly house set to open next spring.

"Their numbers just dropped off the charts and now they're rebuilding," Hitchell said. "The weather was really tough on a lot of things last year. But they'll recover. Everything will be fine."

The area's slowpokes, especially snapping turtles, were also mixed up by the flooding, which made it easier said than done for them to climb out of the Illinois River banks each night, said Peoria Zoo herpetologist Doug Holmes.

"When your bank is a half mile inland versus what it used to be, they spread around," Holmes said. "A lot of high water for sure has an effect on everything. Fish end up getting stranded in ponds and pools where they wouldn't normally be, the snakes have definitely been displaced."

So while more people have been spotting turtles this summer, Holmes said locals are probably noticing more of the female amphibians forge unfamiliar territory to nest.

"Unfortunately, I think there's fewer turtles than there ever have been," Holmes said.

The weather has even brought about more activity from Peoria's trees, which thirsted through a dry 2012 and then gorged on water during this spring and summer's downpours. Trees can put on 100 pounds in a single day this time of year, largely in water weight, said Mike Miller, supervisor of environmental services at Peoria Park District.

"This is a time of year where you'll start to see trees dropping branches just because of the weight factor, but coupled with the drought stress, it's a little bit of a double whammy," Miller said. "If there's indications there's weakness in the trees, you might want to not linger under them too long."

Rebecca Lurye can be reached at 686-3251 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow her on Twitter @beccalurye.

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