Arctic mosquitoes explode in number
Scientists uncover likely pathogenic “giant viruses”

Superabundant mosquitoes-
One of the predictions about a warming, changing climate is that it provides conditions for the spread of biological material we hate and is harmful to wildlife as well. Two recent developments in the Arctic show that this is no longer just a prediction.

Most people probably think the Arctic tundra mosquitoes are as a bad as it can get. Late spring and summertime travelers are pummeled and slashed by clouds of them. A person can be covered by mosquitoes in a matter of seconds. Most Arctic wildlife suffers from this onslaught too, although over thousands/millions of years they have adapted to them to a degree.

Alaska has at least 40 species of mosquitoes. Each kind does not bite all season. They will bite for several weeks or months and disappear, but there are so many types that the late spring and early summer are filled. Now, however, with the intense warming in Alaska, they start to bite hard about May 1 rather than June 1. The thaw determines their hatch, and the thaw comes weeks earlier. It might also be that there are more puddles, pools, and ponds for them to emerge from.

Many large animals are harassed and weakened by their bites and loss of blood. The biting can drive wildlife away from prime feeding areas or make so that don’t want to eat. Caribou seem to be a prime example. Smaller mammals too are harassed. So are birds. See the video. So the effects of the increase work their way through the system.

Pathogenic giant viruses-
In the permafrost of Sibera, scientists have discovered 4 different species of “giant viruses” These were found in permafrost samples taken at depth — for example, 85 meters. When thawed, the viruses were able to be reanimated after about 30,000 years frozen, and two of them were able to infect Acanthamoeba (amoeba protozoans). These were used as “bait” to test for infectivity.

Giant virus are not monsters as large as bears.  In fact, they are as small as the smallest bacteria, but for a virus this is very large indeed. Most are many times smaller. The infective giant viruses were named Pithovirus sibericum and Mollivirus sibericum.

The first giant virus was discovered a generation ago in water in an English water tower, not in permafrost. This, a Mimivirus, is thought to have infected humans causing a kind of pneumonia. In turn, Mimivirus was so large it had its own tiny parasite or “virophage” which used and sicken it.

Because giant viruses, now frozen, can infect, and obviously lived many thousands of years by infecting protozoa and likely larger animals too, some which might still roam the tundra, there is an obvious threat. The melting permafrosts and active disruption of it, such as caused mining and drilling in Siberia (and Alaska), could result in significant, now unknown diseases in animals and even humans.

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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides.

4 Responses to Climate Change brings more pests, weeds, disease. The Arctic shows this right now.

    • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

      Thanks Jeff E.

      I hadn’t thought about the biting flies moving north.

      One think I have noticed for the good, is a sharp decline in the number of the big Rocky Mountain wood ticks in Idaho, Wyoming and Utah where I spend most of my time.

      I wonder if this is just luck on my part or a real trend?

      • avatar Nancy says:

        Like this website Jeff E. Thank you for posting it.

        Ralph, noticed a big reduction of mosquitoes in my area this past summer. Not sure why but it made hanging out on the side porch, in the evenings, a lot more enjoyable 🙂

        • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

          Nancy,

          I encountered just a few in my travels in Eastern Idaho this year. I never put on repellent, just long sleeves and a hat.

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