June 13, 2024

These animals thrive under climate change

According to the most recent IPCC report, climate change is a disaster for wildlife worldwide. At least 10,967 species face increased extinction risk due to climate change, and half of all species already appear to be on the move as their habitats change, according to a 2017 study published in the journal Science.

However, not all species are equally negatively affected by climate change. Some animals even take advantage of the changing conditions and expand their range or increase their populations. Click through to meet some of the critters you’re looking forward to seeing many more as the world warms. Spoiler alert: At least two of them want to suck your blood.

armadillos

Nine-banded armadillos are marching north. Before 1850, the scaly (and, tbh cute) mammal’s historical range was limited to Mexico, Central America, and parts of South America. However, in the 1850s, these little guys crossed the Rio Grande River into the U.S., probably aided by the human construction of bridges and roads.

In 1994, scientists estimated that their range covered parts of nine southeastern US states. From there, climate change has helped them continue north and east at a rate of about 7 kilometers per year. . But as of 2021, the little roly-poly bois are in at least 15 (disclaimer: They can’t roll into balls completely like some other armadillo species).

As temperatures warm, they are expected to move further north, possibly reaching New York and other major cities on the East Coast. As cute as they are (I think personally), not everyone is thrilled with their expansion. Armadillos are generalists when it comes to food. They will eat almost anything, including the eggs of endangered species such as northern bobwhite quail or sensitive and waning salamanders. They are also vectors for many diseases (eg, leprosy), and biologists are concerned about how those diseases could affect other wildlife.

mosquitoes

If you like to donate blood, you’re in luck. Mosquitoes thrive in many places under climate change. The mosquito season is getting longer, mosquito populations are increasing sharply, and the number of mosquitoes is growing. Unfortunately, mosquitoes carry some of the world’s worst infectious diseases. For example, malaria kills hundreds of thousands of people worldwide every year, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Other conditions, such as dengue fever, chikungunya, and Zika, are also likely to become more widespread, with millions or even billions more people at risk of exposure.

The multiplication of mosquitoes also affects other wildlife, which can also be affected by mosquito-borne diseases. For example, avian malaria has caused several endemic bird species to become extinct in Hawaii. A few more species hang by a thread at higher elevations in a habitat just out of the invasive mosquito’s reach. But mountains have peaks, and in a warming world, mosquitoes will eventually win the chase if the birds run out of places to go. Suggested solutions to save endangered birds include releasing genetically modified mosquitoes and relocating birds.

As a bonus, all that extra time to breed each year means climate change could also speed up mosquito evolution. More generations mean more opportunities for the world’s deadliest animal to get even better at being the worst.

sign

Everyone’s another favorite leech is also getting an edge through climate change. Ticks spread and carry tick diseases with them. Lyme disease is the most commonly reported insect or arachnid disease in the U.S., and the area where you can catch it is growing.

However, the tick takeover isn’t just about Lyme disease and its host, black-legged deer ticks. Multiple species of the eight-legged parasites carry a variety of conditions (such as babesiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Powassan virus, to name a few). Plus, scientists are still discovering new ways ticks can make you sick.

Like mosquitoes, the tick tree also harms wildlife, especially moose, infested by massive ticks throughout the winter.

bark beetles

It’s okay, though, because not every creeps that benefit from climate change spread disease to humans and animals. Instead, some plants infect.

Forest-decimating bark beetles infest coniferous trees by laying their eggs under the bark, carrying mold with them. The combination of fungal disease and hungry insect larvae kills vulnerable trees, especially those suffering from drought. Larger bark beetle outbreaks and expansions of their range have been associated with rising seasonal temperatures for decades.

In a double whammy of climate change, concurrent severe drought and bark beetle spikes have caused massive tree deaths in the western U.S. In 2015, a single, particularly severe outbreak killed more than 12 million trees. While some research suggests that certain tree species evolve to better control bark beetle attacks, it’s certainly an ongoing, uphill battle.

jellyfish

They’re not all critters (and armadillos); some jellyfish are also in bloom. Unlike almost all other marine life, certain jellyfish sare o fine with higher ocean temperatures and the associated lower oxygen levels in the water. Some research has even suggested that ocean warming may help jellies grow and mature faster, resulting in shorter generation times and increasing populations.

Not all jellyfish do equally well, but two species that benefit the most are moon jelly and warty comb jelly, neither of which sting. But even non-stinging jellyfish can cause problems for people, such as in the case of jellyfish clogging the cooling pipes of nuclear power plants.

A decade ago, 62% of the world’s marine ecosystems had increasing jellyfish, according to a 2012 study published in Hydrobiologia. Since then, reports of jellyfish swarms have continued to crop up worldwide.

Pollution can also boost jellies by promoting the growth of their algae food. However, jellyfish multiply cyclically, and the fear of an eventual ocean of “jellyfish soup” is probably exaggerated. And if jellies take off, it’s unlikely that climate change will be the only artificial factor in their rise.

bullfrogs

Bullfrogs are an eastern U.S. export that has become invasive and problematic worldwide. The frogs are voracious predators that eat anything they can fit in their mouths and (surprise, surprise) spread a deadly fungus to other amphibians.

A few factors have contributed to the global expansion of bullfrogs. First, humans transported bullfrogs to many places outside their native ranges due to their one-time popularity as pets and school project animals, not to mention their tasty paws. Then bullfrogs revealed that they were also more than capable of moving themselves long distances. The frogs, routinely larger than a hefty hamburger, can jump up to 6 feet in a single jump and travel over a mile between isolated waterways overland.

Now, climate change is promoting their spread in some regions by making more habitats bullfrog-friendly. In South America, bullfrogs are expected to migrate to new areas as the climate warms. In South Korea, U.S. bullfrogs are expected to increase their range in the worst-case climate change scenario. In western Canada, climate change is also thought to facilitate the takeover of the bullfrog.

possums

Okay, we started with a cute mammal and ended with another. Think of it like the opossum palette cleaner (pronouncing the “o” is optional). The Virginia opossum is the only marsupial found north of Mexico, and it is the reigning champion of cute little faces. Like armadillos, opossums have spread northward (most recently to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula). That possum proliferation is thought to be facilitated by urbanization and climate change. And, of course, this continuous expansion also has ecological disadvantages.

But unlike armadillos, opossums also seem to have distinct benefits. In Oregon, where opossums were introduced in the early 1900s, they are considered an invasive species. Some wildlife experts worry that opossums could prey on susceptible species or spread disease.

Opossums rarely carry rabies, compared to other wild mammals such as raccoons. In addition, they are effective scavengers, clearing up carrion and controlling the amount of dead material in the environment (which can help stop the spread of some diseases). Even in Oregon, where they are invaders, opossums are prized for preying on venomous rattlesnakes. But contrary to popular belief and memes, it may not be the drawing vacuums they’re made of. Oh yeah.

Louise J. Robertson

I've been blogging for over ten years now and have found that writing is one of the best ways to express my thoughts and feelings on various topics. I am a passionate blogger who writes about topics like health and wellness, personal finance, cooking, tech, beauty and fashion, food and cooking, and other lifestyle topics. I love blogging because it's so easy and flexible; I can write anytime and anywhere I want!

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