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The Arctic Now Has a Big Mosquito Problem

The bugs are growing bigger and living longer thanks to climate change

(Scott Smith/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Thanks to climate change, people and animals living in the Arctic not only have to brave big mosquitos, but have to deal with many more of them for longer than ever before – and those mosquitos could destroy entire populations of animals already struggling to adapt to changes in the environment.

According to a recent study, temperatures above the Arctic Circle have risen at almost twice the rate as the rest of the world in the last century. Not only is climate change in the Arctic awakening ancient viruses and opening up new areas for governments to drill for resources, but it’s also causing allowing many more Arctic mosquitoes to survive and attack anything with a pulse, Craig Welch reports for National Geographic.

“It is the talk of the town when the Arctic mosquitoes are out,” Lauren Culler, an entomologist at Dartmouth College’s Institute of Arctic Studies tells Welch. “There aren’t a lot of animals for them to eat in the Arctic, so when they finally find one, they are ferocious. They are relentless. They do not stop. They just keep going after you.”

Arctic mosquitoes are already larger than their southern cousins, but according to a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, climate change is extending their hatching season, allowing many more mosquitoes to survive, thrive and grow even bigger for more of the year. The study found that the bugs grew 10 percent faster for every degree Celsius and that if the temperature were to rise by even two degrees Celsius, 52 percent more mosquitoes would likely survive to adulthood every year.

But while it may be awful for a human living in the Arctic to have to contend with biblical swarms of mosquitoes, the pests don’t carry any transmittable diseases. But animals native to the Arctic aren’t always so lucky, Gillian Mohney writes for ABC News. Without arms or bug-killing technology, the animals’ only method for escaping swarms of mosquitoes is to hightail it for colder and windier areas. This brings two critical problems to Arctic caribou and reindeer populations: firstly, Welch writes, any time they spend fleeing the pests is time not spent eating and storing fat reserves for the harsh winters. Secondly, the mosquitoes are starting to hatch closer and closer to the time of year when caribou give birth to their calves, which makes it harder for the herds to avoid being eaten alive and giving the mosquitoes access to an easy blood meal.

“Increased mosquito abundance, in addition to northward range expansions of additional pest species, will have negative consequences for the health and reproduction of caribou,” Culler said in a statement.

With Arctic mosquitoes getting bigger to the north and the southern Tiger mosquito listed as the fourth worst invasive species in the world, soon there might not be anywhere in the world left to hide from the buzzing bloodsuckers.

About Danny Lewis

Danny Lewis is a multimedia journalist working in print, radio, and illustration. He focuses on stories with a health/science bent and has reported some of his favorite pieces from the prow of a canoe. Danny is based in Brooklyn, NY.

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