Climate change and insects: 3 things to watch out for

Some people don’t believe in climate change. For a while, our ex-environment minister himself didn’t believe in climate change. Yet, whilst unexpected tornadoes and droughts are taking hold of the landscape, there remains an air of complacency. Until most of us have experienced the effects of climate change first hand, we might not change our minds either.

Warming weather invites summer barbecues and rooftop festivals here in the UK. But what other things might the sunshine bring? A first-class oxford-educated friend recently said to me, ‘the insects are surely doing fine. Whist in general this is absolutely not the case, invading species of non-native insect are on the rise.

Fundamentally, these ‘invasive’ insects cannot (usually) cross the English channel without some anthropogenic assistance – many come through shipping containers, within supermarket produce, or nested in holiday travel bags. But once in the UK, the warming climate is very forgiving, often mimicking the native country and so acting as a habitable environment. Here, we discuss some of the more serious anticipated arrivals, to watch out for at your next barbecue. 

By Thomas Brown [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Thomas Brown [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

A giant asian hornet

Recent scare-mongering in the media indicates that a large asian hornet is approaching the shores of the UK. Arriving in France within a box of Chinese pottery in 2004, research indicates that the UK climates are as climatically suitable as its home in Asia. It is reported to have killed six people in France, (those with severe allergies), and decimate entire hives of honey bees in under an hour. Despite these terrifying figures, the asian hornet, although not actually as giant as it’s native UK counterpart, will in general will not attack humans. Those with allergies should be sure to keep epi-pens and anti-allergy devices on their persons as normal, and be sure to report any potential sightings of unusual looking wasp-like insects to the GB Non-Native Species Secretariat.

Expect allergies

Firstly, that nest of ladybirds in your friend’s bedroom is actually a cluster of invasive japanese Harlequins. They are generally double the size of native ladybirds, have a toxic bite that induce rashes, and cause scented infestations that stimulate allergies. The cannibalistic ladybirds decimate local ladybird populations, and are spreading like wildfire through the UK. Whilst research actually shows that it was international trade that initially brought this insect to our shores, it is a warm climate which allow this insect to adapt so readily to our environment. If you spot a harlequin ladybird, snap a photo with your phone, and upload it to the National Ladybird Survey to contribute to a UK-wide monitoring scheme for these invasive insects.

Mosquito-borne diseases

Susan Ellis, [CC BY 3.0 us (], via Wikimedia Commons

Susan Ellis, [CC BY 3.0 us (, via Wikimedia Commons

The bugs are bringing diseases a little closer to come. Whilst you may know friends or relatives that picked up malaria in Africa, or dengue in South America, the warming climate of the UK is opening the doors for a swath of disease-carrying insects, some more deadly than others. The NHS recently published an article covering the main threats facing the UK from disease-ridden mosquitoes. Serious illnesses including malaria, dengue, and lyme disease are threatening to reach our shores as soon as 2030, under the worst-case scenario of carbon emissions. The Carbon Brief comments that a combination of factors, including available habitat for mosquitoes, and access to treatment for the affected, will dictate the overall impact these diseases are likely to have on UK residents. You can help prevent mosquitoes biting by wearing long sleeves at dawn and dusk. In particular, a one-to-watch is the asian tiger mosquito, which in 2009, was predicted to be arriving the UK imminently. Sure enough, the asian tiger mosquito was reported in Kent in 2014. A study published this year highlights the little studied Chikungunya virus, carried by the asian tiger mosquito, making its way northwards thanks to climate change.

You can help

Can we make sure we don’t go down the worst-case route? Despite the apathetic fracked-off feeling you might be having since the tories took over a fortnight ago, there are still ways to help. First and foremost, please take 45 seconds to sign this pledge to Keep It In The Ground. The campaign run by The Guardian illustrates how tackling supply of carbon, rather than demand, offers a top-down approach to tackling the looming threat of climate change (and the host of weird insects it could bring). You can find out more about the campaign here, and keep up with any updates here.