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Insect Apocalypse: How the insect population will change in the next century ?

Many insect species are predicted to face a wipe out as studies show that certain species will go extinct in the next few decades. This likely is caused by the vast physical changes in the environment, caused by explosive human activity in the last century, as well as human-enhanced and natural climate change. But which species in particular will be affected the most negatively ? Which will actually be exceed in the coming natural changes ?

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Specialist insects

Certain insects follow very specific lifestyles that are highly dependent on individual factors that have to fall in line with each other for the insect to stay alive. This easily can be affected by major environmental changes that can throw these separate elements out of balance, and prevents these insects from being able to survive and reproduce.

The fig wasp requires the fig tree and its fruit to be ready in certain conditions in order to reproduce. Recent climatic changes have left it vulnerable by altering the highly specific steps of its lifestyle, like reducing fig production from the fig tree on some years due to drought-like conditions, or removing the tree as a whole for human development in that area. This is most seen in the Amazon rain forest, as both local people and large corporations are cutting down trees including the fig tree, to give space for agriculture and other economic ventures. This disables the fig wasp from finding a fig to lay its eggs in.

Fig wasp surveying a potential fig for its young to feed on.

Fig wasp surveying a potential fig for its young to feed on.


This is similar to the Monarch butterfly, as it cannot be more adaptive once they acquire the poison Cardenolide, only acquired when the butterfly is in its larval stage from eating the milkweed plant in excess. For this important survival tool, they have to be very selective with what they eat, only choosing to eat milkweed so early on in their life. However farmers have cleared the fields that Monarch butterflies find their milkweed from for growing crops, and less butterflies will be able discourage predators from consuming them. Predators that were one discouraged to hunt them in fear of the poison will now be inclined to hunt them as vast numbers of Monarch butterflies are without the poison.

Dragonflies, mayflies and stone flies are also in a tough spot as their larva start off in water to hunt aquatic prey to be able to grow wings and hunt effectively as an adults. The nymphs are born in rivers, swamps or ponds and have to eat enough to be able to metamorphose. However these areas are reducing in water quality as runoff from factories and other human sources are polluting the water, debilitating young nymphs that have sensitive breathing systems from breathing in the polluted water. Without good quality water for the nymphs to be raised in, less nymphs can reach adulthood and continue to survive. Even as an fully matured adult, their prey may face the same consequences of living in toxic water, and reduce in population, forcing these fly populations to plummet one way or another.

Dragonfly nymph on pond bed, hunting.

Dragonfly nymph on pond bed, hunting.

Generalist Insects

Generalist insects are the opposite of specialist insects, they have evolved to not be so skilled in one way, and are not picky with their lifestyles as well. Therefore major changes to their habitat or living conditions do not pose as such a threat to them as they would to a specialist insect.

The ladybird, or ladybug as said in North America, is a generalist beetle that is not picky with its prey and food sources. Usually they eat aphids and other pests for gardeners, and are considered as welcomed insects in many gardens. Their prey is quite hardy and unaffected by the current altercations in the ecosystem, so they have a surplus of prey they can survive from. Where the Monarch Butterfly falls, the ladybird shines, as they have a mild inbuilt poison that deters birds from eating them, that they have acquired naturally rather than from eating certain plants. This will be highly important as some insects will decline in numbers for birds to hunt and consume, so they will be hunting others more like the ladybird, so the poison's effectiveness will be more prevalent in future survival. Their bright display of colours warn new predators of its poisons, so that it can diffuse most encounters with predators with just the sight of it.


Ladybird

Ladybird

The cockroach, ever since it crossed seas in voyaging ships to Africa, has surged in its populations globally. They have been found in almost all continents, and have thrived off of scavenging human trash found almost everywhere in cities. Its infamy comes from being an adaptable insect that can handle changing habitats and maintaining a steady source of food.

The yellow jacket predatory wasp has skyrocketed in population due to the changes in seasons from milder winters and drier springs. Being a strong generalist insect for its size, it has outperformed many other species in its vicinity, and has adopted very well to human environments like cities and parks. They have been able to attack and even kill insects above their weight and size on their own, and in swarms they can kill animals far greater in size. They are also not picky with what they eat, ranging between insects and other animals, sweet fruits and organic waste. Considering the abundance of landfill and other waste tipping sites, wasps will take the chance to consume food from it all and thrive even greater than before.

Greatest number of human deaths from a single type of animal in the US goes to the yellow jacket and other wasp/hornet variants. While it is an old statistic, the number is likely higher in the last few years from their rapid increase in population.

Greatest number of human deaths from a single type of animal in the US goes to the yellow jacket and other wasp/hornet variants. While it is an old statistic, the number is likely higher in the last few years from their rapid increase in population.

Meadow living insects

Meadows and grassy plains are being lost to the need for agriculture and farmland for produce to eat for people, and this affects many insects that consider these fields their habitats. Many insects like the grasshopper, locust and praying mantis that hunt and lay their eggs in these areas will be affected by their habitats being replaced for farmland. These insects can either receive no detriment or be impeded from surviving the oncoming changes to their environment.

Grasshoppers and locusts both suffer from their traditional grassy meadows being removed for farmland, however they have instead repopulated in man-made parks and gardens in cities. Crops of farmers are also being ravaged when locusts are in their swarming phase, and green plants are almost always eaten by the millions of locusts that fly together.

Mantises have been affected by the loss of grassy plains, but they have a wide diet that they can hunt and take down. Mantises can eat hummingbirds to flies, whatever they can grasp with their raptorial forelegs and can survive in other habitats they have been before. However, with the likely changes to the populations of dragonfly and other fly species that have larvae in water, the mantis' selection of prey may reduce as well.

Praying Mantis

Praying Mantis

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.