November 27, 2018

"Because insects are legion, inconspicuous and hard to meaningfully track, the fear that there might be far fewer than before was more felt than documented."

"People noticed it by canals or in backyards or under streetlights at night — familiar places that had become unfamiliarly empty. The feeling was so common that entomologists developed a shorthand for it, named for the way many people first began to notice that they weren’t seeing as many bugs. They called it the windshield phenomenon.... But the crux of the windshield phenomenon, the reason that the creeping suspicion of change is so creepy, is that insects wouldn’t have to disappear altogether for us to find ourselves missing them for reasons far beyond nostalgia.... [T]he losses were already moving through the ecosystem, with serious declines in the numbers of lizards, birds and frogs. The paper reported 'a bottom-up trophic cascade and consequent collapse of the forest food web.' Lister’s inbox quickly filled with messages from other scientists, especially people who study soil invertebrates, telling him they were seeing similarly frightening declines. Even after his dire findings, Lister found the losses shocking: 'I didn’t even know about the earthworm crisis!'"

From "The Insect Apocalypse Is Here/What does it mean for the rest of life on Earth?" (NYT Magazine).

63 comments:

Gary D. Gross said...

As the Maunder minimum approaches and global temperatures decrease, the population of (flying) insects will be decreasing. It'll take several years, likely decades, before the impact will be noticed.

Joshua Barker said...

The article and the comments are almost exclusively focused on Global Warming and Pesticides... completely ignoring the massive radiation leakage from reactor's like Chernobyl and Fukashima over the past few decades... Global Warming / increased CO2 is actually beneficial to bugs... not sure about the pesticides... I think that it might actually have more to do with massive genetic re-engineering of crops to be resistant to parasites and bug infestations that could be a true culprit... It would be interesting to see a study looking at those factors as well..

rhhardin said...

Combine it with climate change by calling it the windshield factor.

Laslo Spatula said...

From the earlier 'creepy' post: "At the top of the creepy hobbies list were collectors (especially of dolls, insects or body parts like teeth), people-watchers and birdwatchers."

So the problem is obviously with the creepy insect collectors.

The Teeth Apocalypse is next.

I am Laslo.

rhhardin said...

I enjoy insects for their minds.

Ingachuck'stoothlessARM said...

this really bugs me. And teeth? That's how you can tell the happy motorcyclists-
the ones with bugs on their teeth.

Jupiter said...

We're all gonna die!

rhhardin said...

Opposites. Shortest path from sect to insect in the thesaurus
insect bug disease affliction care interest part faction sect

Comanche Voter said...

Depending upon which "top" scientist you believe, several hundred species of critters go extinct on Earth every hour/day/week/year/decade. And an equal number of new species of critters arise every hour/day/week/year/decade.

Change is constant in the natural world; only arrogant humans (environmentalists, global warming alarmists) believe that conditions as they exist right now--this very minute! this instant! are the optimum conditions of all time and should be frozen as a fly in amber.

You got to roll with the punches Bunkie.

tcrosse said...

'I didn’t even know about the earthworm crisis!'

Nobody loves me. Everybody hates me. What the hell am I gonna go out and eat?

exhelodrvr1 said...

Probably because of the birth control/hormone crap getting into the water system from da ladies

Amadeus 48 said...

The horror! The horror!

Rob said...

Science by anecdote and feelings--the final frontier. Western civilization, it's been nice to know you.

Unknown said...

I'll be the first to say Trump is to blame for this, somehow

In my mind he is responsible for every bad thing

Until the day we elect Ocasio-Cortez by Instragram voting

Ingachuck'stoothlessARM said...

will there be a "flyswatter" graph to accompany the hockey stick?

Original Mike said...

We should ban windshields.

Henry said...

So now will we have apocalyptic science fiction stories where cockroaches don't survive?

JHapp said...

Here in SE Wisconsin we are rapidly moving to a single animal in the food chain. That animal is called the white tailed deer. The plant side of the food chain is a little more diverse. There are a bunch of poisonous and invasive things and each spring whatever the farmers have just planted.

iowan2 said...

Comanche Voter nails it.

What is the "true" climate supposed to be? More species have gone extinct, than are known to exist today.

I asked an university entomologist what happened to all the bumble bees? He couldn't give me an informed response to whether my question was relevant to anything. Those who spend their lives thinking about bugs would find this piece fit for a graphic novel. entertaining for those that find it so, contains nothing else of value.

Fred Drinkwater said...

In 71 my high school bio class went to see the " Hellstrom Chronicles". Humans were about to be wiped out by bugs, you know.
Say, wasn't that right around the time that we were being warned about the coming ice age?
Know what's really vanishing from the world? Journalistic credibility.

The Bergall said...

I think we need to add insects to the census. All this is hyperbole until we get an accurate count................

n.n said...

Change is constant in the natural world

Thirty, forty degree temperature swings measured in minutes and meters.

Evolution (e.g. human life) or chaos (non-linear, incompletely or insufficiently characterized, and unwieldy). Thus the scientific philosophy and practice in the near-frame, which precludes predictions of the future, and is skeptical of the myths from the past and present.

SteveR said...

The bugs are going to Central America. Less crowded these days

Paul Zrimsek said...

Does this mean we're not all going to get malaria after all?

Chipotle said...

Where are the starving birds?

Tommy Duncan said...

This could impact our Minnesota state bird, the mosquito.

Lucid-Ideas said...

Dang it! A new crisis?!?! I was JUST gettimg used to this one and they go ahead and publish this, iN NY mag of all places, THIS!

Lucky for me i stocked up on foil during hurricane Michael. My family should be well protected.

glenn said...

Just another reason “WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE” DIE HORRIBLE DEATHS, BURNED ALIVE OR FROZEN” ........ OK Glenn, put the bullhorn down and back away.

“THANKS, I NEEDED THAT”

javabeast said...

All the other indicators aside, it would seem that a modern, more aerodynamic car would result in fewer countable bug collisions.

wild chicken said...

Very disturbing. Def a shortage of bees around here. Or no one set out bee boxes anymore

tim maguire said...

This is actually quite serious if true. Even if they do mucK it up with stupid crap about climate change (a dishonest euphamism for CAGW).

gilbar said...

you'd think, that IF there was really a bug Apocalypse, people that had retired early so that they could spend ALL their time fly fishing for trouts would have noticed it by now...
You, people like ME

cubanbob said...

If there is indeed a Bug Apocalypse, why hasn't it wiped out roaches, fleas, ticks, flies and mosquitos?

mandrewa said...

It's not climate change. (The idea that a 1 or 2 degree C increase would have a dramatic impact on insect populations is just silly.)

It's not radiation. (What radiation?)

It's not habitat loss. (Loss of certain habitats could effect some species but not in general. In any case there are still huge amounts of habitat that look like they should be insect friendly in North America.)

Whatever is going on it is very widespread. Including in places where people are normally absent.

My first guess would be insect parasites. There are a huge number of parasites and most are so small that we don't see them without a microscope. Suppose that Eurasian parasites are moving to North America and vice-a-versa. African parasites to Eurasia and North America and vice-a-versa. And South American, etc.

So that insects are being exposed to parasites that they have no defenses against.

My second guess would be some very widespread chemical. Something that in even tiny quantities is deadly to insects. Something that is found even miles away from where people are.

tim in vermont said...

I did notice driving to Florida in warm weather the whole way, that my car was not plastered with bugs the way it used to be when I did the same trip in the ‘70s. The thing about aerodynamics, well I drove a GMC Sierra last time. I can’t believe that it is significantly more streamlined than an old Chevy Impala.

tim in vermont said...

Climate change is just way to easy, and too good an explanation to check. The climate has changed so drastically in the past 20,000 years, from the Holocene Optimum (a term they have now banned, BTW) when it was very warm and the glaciers melted, to the Younger Dryas event, very, very cold, time 10,000 years ago, to the Roman Warm Period, to the cold times of the Dark Ages to the Medieval Warm Period, which was likely as warm as today, or possibly warmer, nobody knows, to the Little Ice Age, to the current relative warm climate. Are we to believe that all of these insects evolved since the fall of Rome?

A far more likely explanation is the same thing that killed off almost every single American Chestnut, almost every mature Dutch Elm, is killing Ash trees and Hemlocks in North America, etc. The consequences of the one thing that is very new to this planet, the same thing that brought the Black Death to Europe. Humans traveling between continents and bringing with them new fungi to strange continents, probably insect parasites as well, etc, etc, etc. There weren’t even any earthworms in North America, as I understand it, until they were brought here by settlers unintentionally in plants brought here.

tim in vermont said...

The radiation idea is ridiculous. That’s just projected anxiety. “Massive....” sure. Really what is massive is our ability to detect more and more minute levels.

Temujin said...

Studies show that we had 12.35% more cockroaches when Obama was President.

Meanwhile down here in Florida I think the fire ants have killed off any other insect life, plus a few dogs and cats in my neighborhood, and- we think- one of our neighbors kids. Nice place, Florida.

Marcus said...

We were on our way to almost eradicating malaria before the foolishness of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring did in DDT. From Unicef: "Over one million people die from malaria each year, mostly children under five years of age, with 90 per cent of malaria cases occurring in Sub-Saharan Africa. An estimated 300-600 million people suffer from malaria each year. More than 40 percent of the world's population lives in malaria-risk areas."

THEOLDMAN

D 2 said...

Insects do not rank high on the intersectionality cards because of their tendency towards colonization. But there I go, generalizing.
Noble species are probably like a moss that grows 0.000001 square metres a year, in a small cave in the Andamans.

Henry said...

I joked earlier, but that is a well-researched and well-written article. And it is worrisome.

glenn said...

I’m calling bull**** because there was a spider on my bedroom ceiling this morning.

Jon Burack said...

Mosquitoes love me, and this summer I did not notice any flagging in their interest. In fact, one gave me a very serious case of West Nile Virus in August. I live in Michigan, where they are plentiful, but I believe I got that one hiking at Blue Mounds when we were out there in early August. In any case, I am not too worried about insects.

EDH said...

Blogger Henry said...
So now will we have apocalyptic science fiction stories where cockroaches don't survive?

Time to pick Keith Richards in the death pool.

Big Mike said...

@Marcus, but those are African-Africans. If the little children dying painfully were African-Americans then the Sierra Club might care about it. But as it is, the American enviro-whack jobs don’t a whole lot give a damn about them.

@glenn, spiders are arachnids, not insects.

Big Mike said...

I see that Cindy Hyde-Smith won the Mississippi runoff election.

BJM said...

@Wild Chicken...I dunno where you live but where I live there are thousands of acres of fruit & nut trees as well as thousands of bee hives.

I could sure do with fewer Japanese beetles in early spring...but our chickens beg to differ.

Oso Negro said...

Here in Galveston, insects are doing just fine. They seem to be thriving in our nation's capitol, as well.

whitney said...

"More felt then documented"

Isn't that the Mantra of the age?

stlcdr said...

Maybe...global worming!

Tina Trent said...

The part about insects being infested with thousands of even tinier mites is the least favorite thing I learned this year.

Mike said...

An article that length should have more facts. There were a lot of ranges, "dropped 30 to 60%" and "on average by 45%," with a consistency of loss throughout, but very few specifics that would lead me to accept the word "apocalypse" as used. There's no return from an apocalypse. But it is far from clear that we've reached a point of no return on insects. This reminds me of the bee panic from earlier this decade, people had even named it, and then all of a sudden it was nevermind! The ACSH said explicitly:

Honeybee populations haven’t “crashed” in the United States or elsewhere. Honeybees are not going "extinct." Crops are not "in trouble."

But that was a couple of flawed studies that got spun by media and environmentalists into a fake crisis. A world-wide decline across all flying insects -- and worms and lizards -- would be a serious problem if it continued. But will it? Warming air is friendlier to most insect species, not threatening, so I don't buy the Global Warming explanation. My concern is that the warmists are wrong, and given the trend of declining sunspot activity, we enter a cooling phase over the next decade that DOES have a devastating impact on insect populations.

Robert Cook said...

"Change is constant in the natural world; only arrogant humans (environmentalists, global warming alarmists) believe that conditions as they exist right now--this very minute! this instant! are the optimum conditions of all time and should be frozen as a fly in amber."

Straw man. Someone inevitably comes up with this sophistry as if it is somehow meaningful or discredits those who warn of the dangers of global climate change.

No one says the conditions as they exist now are the optimum conditions of all time. They say that as these conditions change, life for many (or possibly most) currently extant life forms on the planet, not least among them--humans--will become difficult or completely untenable.

Of course, new life forms will arise, and one day there may no life forms on the planet who will know what to make of the detritus left behind by extinct humanity, or even notice it.

Robert Cook said...

"Dang it! A new crisis?!?!"

No. Part of the current one.

Mike said...

One other reaction I have to this long article is the anecdote about the Chinese pollinators working the apple blossoms. I've never heard this before and they could have found another smaller species to do the work, but they have an excess of young men needing work. So I just laughed at the Chinese. But this pollination factor is something I'm very familiar with in California. My company works with agriculture and is especially close to almond and grape farmers. The almond growers hire people from all over the USA to bring colonies of bees to work in CA. About one million bee colonies (six million hives) are distributed throughout the valley, starting in Bakersfield in December and working their way north along I-80 up to just above Sacramento until all the almonds are fertilized. The "bee collapse" never materialized here and we use a lot of bees.

So if there is an observable decline worldwide, I am interested in what the causes could be, since habitat decline and climate are apparently NOT the answer, given the rain-forest declines being similar to areas with habitat decline. What is the cause or causes?

And why prior to death and destruction being visited upon an insect-free world is the word apocalypse being used so casually?

Tina Trent said...

Mike, you're making too much sense. You have to start with the presumption that that almond trees are evil and work back to them killing the bees.

Mike said...

Mites are evil. We can agree on that.

Robert Cook said...

"The part about insects being infested with thousands of even tinier mites is the least favorite thing I learned this year."

Parasitology is fascinating and disturbing.

Tom Grey said...

As said above, once, I'd mostly suspect too much estrogen hormones getting into the environment. Unlike alcohol, estrogen is not "metabolized", some goes out with the urine.

Many fish already have less sperm, and there are signs human males have less. I also guess there are more gay men because of it.

I can easily imagine some bugs hormones are getting messed up and less successful reproduction is going on.

That idea is part of the male mosquito sterilization efforts, where sterilized males are released to do non-reproductive mating (probably not orgasmic) with wild females.

Malaria is also a parasite on the mosquito, tho not quickly fatal. Spreading viruses and bacteria from one area to another is likely also an issue.

If CO2 warms the world up, there would be more bugs.

Whether it's warming or cooling, the world would be better with more nuclear power.

n.n said...

"Because insects are legion, inconspicuous and hard to meaningfully track, the fear that there might be far fewer than before was more felt than documented."

The very definition of a phobia, irrational, emotional, and anxious.

Shawn Levasseur said...

On the flip side, here in Maine (and from what I understand, the rest of northern New England), we have an overabundance of deer, wild turkeys, and squirrels.

JAORE said...

"No one says the conditions as they exist now are the optimum conditions of all time. They say that as these conditions change, life for many (or possibly most) currently extant life forms on the planet, not least among them--humans--will become difficult or completely untenable."

See, in your scenario you (actually worse, that nasty old "they"...)say unproven and hyperbolic terms, "possibly most" and "completely untenable". Very unlikely. Needlessly inflammatory.

Here's another unproven, but possible outcome:
Warming could lead to a more prosperous and abundant world.

Phidippus said...

When the environment changes, life "finds ways" to exploit the new niches available. Sometimes new species arise, sometimes species disappear. Life itself continues, at least until the core of the Earth freezes and its magnetic field collapses, or we get hit with a gamma ray burst. There is quite a different roster of life forms today than there was in the Cambrian period, for instance.

Humans are a different story because we can modify our environment to some extent, or create artificial environments to live in, as long as we have sources of energy and some minimum level of economic productivity to enable this activity.

I have a hard time worrying about any of this, but the appeal of contemplating the End Times never loses its appeal for some people.