For those folks who live in the far north and find some comfort in the idea that the planet is getting warmer, here's a bit of bad news: Hordes of nasty mosquitoes may be heading your way.
Ever since it was accidentally introduced into the United States in the 1980s, the Asian tiger mosquito has expanded its range faster than a prairie fire and it now makes its home throughout the Southeastern states. And now researchers have shown it only takes a slight increase in temperature for these ferocious little biters to propagate like overzealous bunnies.
Barry Alto, a doctoral candidate in entomology at the University of Florida, and Steven Juliano, a biology professor at Illinois State University, kept three groups of Asian tiger mosquitoes at different temperatures — 79, 75 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit. The goal of the research, which was done while Alto was finishing up his masters degree at Illinois State, was to see how the little pests performed at different temperatures.
"We were able to show that populations at higher temperatures had extremely high rates of population increase, and that the population increased very rapidly initially," Alto says. "That's important because according to population dynamic theory, organisms are better able to get a foothold in new sites when they grow really quickly right in the beginning."
Unknown Consequences of Global Warming
In other words, critters have a lot better chance of surviving if they propagate like mad as soon as they arrive in a new territory.
The research, published in the July 18 issue of the Journal of Medical Entomology, underscores a basic challenge facing scientists today. Many serious consequences of global climate change may have little to do with inundated beaches from sea level rise — the most frequently cited result of global warming. It's likely there will be many changes, and many surprises, if the planet's weather changes as much over the coming years as many experts predict.
For example, take the Asian tiger mosquito. Please.
This is a really nasty little bug that is capable of transmitting serious diseases, according to research in various labs. It hasn't happened so far in this country, as far as we know, but the research shows the tiger can be a successful bearer, or "vector," of such diseases as LaCrosse encephalitis, yellow fever, and dengue fever.
Dinner in the Daytime
It's smaller than most mosquitoes, but its bite causes more irritation than most, and it dines throughout the day, not just at night. It's especially aggressive during its feeding frenzy. And if it lands on you, the bug is so fast it's probably going to inflict its damage and get away before you have a chance to swat it.
The tiger looks so different that it's easily identified by even the casual observer. It's black with white stripes, thus its name.
And it is on the move, big time.
The first wave of the invasion began in Houston in 1985 when some of the mosquitoes hatched out of eggs believed to have been transported to this country from Asia in old tires bound for recycling.
In about a year it was already in Jacksonville, Fla., and "within the next eight years it had spread to every county in Florida," Alto says. Within two decades it was firmly entrenched as far north as Pennsylvania and the upper Midwest.
The tiger's lifestyle helped facilitate that rapid migration.