Climate Change and Insects
Climate change is an ever-looming topic in the news. It can be hard to go a week without hearing reports of droughts, fires, natural disasters and extreme weather patterns, all of which scientists and meteorologists attribute to the growing effects of climate change. From rising sea levels and melting ice caps to increased storms around the globe, the impacts of global warming are constantly before our eyes.
Climate change affects more than just the weather around us. While climate change begins by causing massive shifts in global weather patterns, these shifts have ripple effects throughout other facets of our lives and the natural world. These weather patterns influence the growth of crops and can cause crop losses, which in turn can affect food supplies. Rising sea levels can affect coastal cities, which can lead to huge numbers of displaced people. But did you know that another of climate change’s far-flung effects is the impact these fluctuating weather patterns have on the pests in your home and yard?
Today, we want to explain how global warming and the growing effects of climate change are causing massive shifts in the insect world, and how these changes may already be affecting you.
What Is Climate Change?
The Earth’s temperature has always experienced minor fluctuations. Some years are warmer than others, and some are colder. Sometimes, there might even be a period of a century or so that tends to be a bit chillier or warmer. None of these changes compare to the massive shifts currently taking place across global temperatures. Today, the temperature of the Earth’s surface is slowly rising, along with the temperature of our atmosphere and our oceans. We call this worldwide shift climate change, or global warming.
What is causing global warming? These changes are primarily the result of human activity, including the burning of fossil fuels which emit heat-trapping greenhouse gases, deforestation, pollution and changes in land usage around the globe. Taken together, these actions contribute to form a powder-keg of conditions that are causing the earth to slowly heat up.
Although climate change is primarily a phenomenon of rising temperatures, this isn’t always what it looks like in our daily lives. Climate change can simply look like abnormal weather patterns, even including occasionally colder-than-usual temperatures. It can also look like an increased number of natural disasters around the world, such as droughts, hurricanes, floods and fires. All of these are the result of increasingly unstable weather patterns originating from rising global temperatures.
How Is Climate Change Affecting Pest Growth?
It’s easy to see how things like temperature, sea level and abnormal weather patterns are the result of global warming. What’s less immediately clear is how these weather-based phenomena might have an impact on the insect population. Let’s take this opportunity to break it all down. What is the impact of global warming on pests?
Most pests are more prevalent in warm climates. Whether we’re talking about ticks, ants or cockroaches, one thing they all have in common is that they love higher temperatures. Because insects can’t control their own body temperature, their internal temperature mirrors that of the environment around them. For their own survival, they tend to seek out warmer climates and avoid those with cold weather. This means that in the past, there have been plenty of regions around the world that most pests simply avoided, as they were too cold to make a comfortable insect habitat.
Enter climate change. As the planet heats up and more parts of the globe become temperate regions or even heat zones, this creates more places for insects to live and reproduce. This changing climate results in insect species overrunning areas they might previously never have visited, extra generations being born during the long hot seasons and insects that grow larger due to the more favorable conditions. All of these factors contribute to the growing problem — that the populations of many insects and pests are rapidly increasing as a result of climate change.
Here are just a few of the effects of climate change on insects that we’ve begun to experience that factor into this population growth.
- High Winter Survival Rates: While temperature fluctuations may lead to harsh winters in certain locations, the overwhelming trend across the planet is toward milder winters. These lower temperatures and warmer conditions create a climate that allows far more insects to survive over the winter. This means that while winter has traditionally represented a season-long respite from insect pests, this is no longer true. Now, some insects are known to survive the winter with little difficulty, allowing them to live longer and cause trouble all year round.
- Spread Towards Previously Cooler Climates: As traditionally colder climates begin to warm up, bugs start to flood into these areas. These migration patterns present a problem not only because they lead to wider insect populations worldwide, but also because they introduce new species into areas that may not be equipped to deal with them.
- Worsened Impact on the Crops and Human Population: As bugs move into previously untapped areas, they discover new crops — and can devastate entire fields. Similarly, these bugs may be more likely to infest buildings, yards and vehicles as they encroach upon new territory.
- Increased Size Due to Favorable Conditions: In years past, bugs have typically died off before they ever had the chance to grow to significant sizes. Now, the current conditions are ideal for allowing bugs to grow larger than perhaps ever before. Insects love the warmer temperatures since these conditions help them live longer, eat more and stay healthier, all of which increase the odds that these pests will grow to reach unusually large sizes.
- Increased Resistance to Insecticides: As warmer temperatures increase insect populations, insects’ natural ability to resist insecticides grows, too. Combine this with the migration of insects into areas unprepared to deal with them, and it’s a recipe for the spread of insects along with fewer effective ways to control them.
- More Generations Born: The longer the warm seasons last, the more opportunities insects will have to breed, leading to increased populations worldwide. These additional generations, in turn, create more additional generations, leading to an insect population that continues to increase exponentially.
The increased insect population is not the end of the story, however. While most of us would see this as an unpleasant reality in and of itself, there are farther-reaching consequences of this growing trend. As insect populations rise, so too does the extent of the diseases they spread. Lyme disease, for instance, which is a condition spread by ticks, has tripled in the number of reported cases in the U.S. since the late 1990s.
In addition to the spread of disease, crops are suffering worldwide as insects spread into areas that previously had no encounters with the bugs in question. Even in regions that are used to dealing with a specific pest, the increasing numbers of the pets means they can still destroy crops and cause damage in many different industries.
Which Pests Are Affected by Climate Change?
Not every single insect is enjoying the effects of climate change. Bees, for instance, have received plenty of news coverage regarding their declining populations and the problems that will result from their dwindling numbers. Nevertheless, there are still plenty of insects, pests and bugs that are thriving as they experience the results of climate change.
These are just a few of the major pests that are spreading and thriving due to climate change.
Mosquitoes are a nuisance under the best of circumstances. Even if they aren’t spreading disease, they’re busy buzzing in your ears and leaving itchy bites on your arms and legs. But they’re also capable of much worse. Mosquitoes are known spreaders of multiple dangerous and deadly diseases, including but not limited to yellow fever, West Nile, Zika, dengue viruses and malaria. While these diseases are a problem in any climate, they’re particularly severe in urban areas where mosquitoes thrive with no natural predators and an abundance of food sources.
Mosquitoes love warm and wet climates, meaning that climate change is creating excellent conditions for this pest to rapidly spread and reproduce. Female mosquitoes lay their eggs in stagnant water, where they eventually hatch and feed on the organic material found in the water. Once they reach adulthood, these mosquitoes may live for no more than a week in less-than-ideal conditions. When presented with conditions like those created by climate change, they can live up to several months, during which time they lay eggs every several days. This increased lifespan leads to an exponential increase in the global mosquito population.
Ticks may not be as irritating in the moment as a mosquito, which constantly makes itself known through buzzing and biting. By contrast, ticks are so small and unobtrusive that it isn’t uncommon for people to not even realize one has latched on. This unobtrusiveness is part of what makes them so dangerous. Ticks spread detrimental illnesses like Lyme disease and tick-borne spotted fever, all without you ever realizing they were there in the first place.
Ticks will live for about four years before they complete their life cycle, although in typical cases, not many ticks reach their full adulthood. This is because ticks need to find a host before grow into each new phase of life. As many ticks fail to locate the required hosts, they die off. This naturally keeps the tick population under control. But as rising temperatures allow ticks to move into previously uninhabitable regions, the chance to find hosts increases — which leads to higher populations of ticks and greater spread of these tick-carried diseases.
No one wants cockroaches in their home. Not only are these pests frightening, but they’re also unhygienic and have been known to spread conditions such as salmonella. These insects are extremely tough, however, as they come with a built-in defense mechanism that helps them survive virtually anything the natural world can throw at them. They love a warm, dry climate, so climate change is creating the perfect environment for these insects to grow and thrive.
Cockroaches can reproduce multiple times throughout their life cycle, so the longer they live, the more eggs they’re likely to lay. By extension, this means that the better conditions become for cockroach populations, the greater the population will increase, leading to more infestations worldwide.
There are so many different species of ants that it can be difficult to speak about them as a collective, as each sub-species has its own characteristics. It’s worth noting, however, that they’re present in almost every climate on the globe. How do they achieve this? It has to do with how resilient they are and how good they are at filling ecological gaps. As other species die out, ants increase in population since there are more resources for them to consume.
In addition to their ability to survive in virtually every climate on earth, one of the reasons ants are so resilient is because of the sheer numbers with which they reproduce. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the farther ants spread and the fewer natural predators they encounter, the greater their numbers will continue to grow over time.
5. Bed Bugs
Bed bugs don’t spread disease in the same way that ticks or mosquitoes do. But they will bite, leaving itchy sores that can grow infected and that are extremely unpleasant to deal with. They’re also tricky to get rid of once they’ve decided they want to live in your home. It typically takes a pest control specialist to do the job. How are they being affected by climate change? It’s simple.
Bed bugs thrive in warm weather. As winters grow milder and shorter and warm seasons stretch on for longer, this inevitably means the bed bugs are going to be enjoying longer and longer reproductive seasons. Where a typical year can produce as many three generations, longer summers mean this number grows even larger, leading to higher bed bug populations worldwide.
Call Green Home Termite & Pest Control Today
As the effects of global warming and climate change become more apparent with every passing day, the odds of insect infestations in homes and businesses are always increasing. Have you recently noticed ants or bedbugs in your home? Are you dealing with cockroaches or other pests? If so, then you’re not alone.
Green Home Termite & Pest Control is here to help. Based in Phoenix, we’re one of the top-rated pest control services in the area due to our policy of using safe products, hiring only the very best in the business and offering friendly and personable customer service to each and every customer. When you choose to work with us, you can be sure that we’ll get the job done right the first time.
Ready to take a stand against the pests in your home? Contact us today to receive your free quote.
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