Cold Snap Could Kill Mountain Pine Beetles - ABC FOX MONTANA NEWS, WEATHER, SPORTS - KTMF/KWYB

Cold Snap Could Kill Mountain Pine Beetles

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Sub-zero temperatures are of course affecting people across western Montana, but could this recent cold snap make a dent in the resilient populations of the mountain pine beetle?

"This cold snap may have had the potential to knock 'em back," said Diana Six, a University of Montana Professor of Forest Entomology and Pathology.

In the fall and early winter, Six said pine beetles produce a form of anti-freeze in their bodies.

"They begin to produce a type of glycerol, which is very, very much like what we put in our cars," she explained.

The glycerol keeps the water in the beetles' bodies from freezing, until temps drop to -30 or -40. Six said pine beetles also burrow underneath a tree's bark, which creates yet another barrier between them and the cold."

But, Six said the beetles may have rid their bodies of the glycerol in January, when Montana temperatures rose to unseasonable highs.

"So, they can really take a lot of cold if they're prepared, but if they're not prepared, all it takes is a little bit below freezing and they die."

Six said February's cold front differs from the one that hit the state two months ago. She said back in December, the beetles had taken the fall to produce the glycerol in their bodies.

"So, when that cold snap hit, they were probably well prepared, and I don't think very much happened."

And the insects sure can recover.

Six said back in 2009 near the Big Hole River, a cold snap knocked out 95% of the pine beetle population, and they disappeared for three years.

"But, now of course, it's a big sea of red down there, because it's been hot, it's been dry, trees are stressed, the beetles came back," she said.

Six said the forest service hasn't yet released the pine beetle population numbers for 2013.

"But, I know the numbers of acres that are being killed are declining."

To learn how to identify trees on your property that have been attacked by pine beetles, click here.

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