How does air pollution affect insects?

 In this blog post, we will discuss “How does air pollution affect insects?” Firstly, we will briefly talk about air pollution and its type. Then, the article will give information about insects in the United States. In addition, it will emphasize whether the poor air quality affects insects. In the end, the article will give solutions to minimize air pollution so that your bit of a contribution can save the insect world.

 

How does air pollution affect insects?

Air pollution creates a negative impact on almost all insects from the Animalia kingdom. The falling numbers in the insects are coined as ‘insect apocalypse’. Apart from air pollution, other pollutions such as soil and water pollution and light pollution can be the reason for the declining population. Some of the pollutants which can disturb the insects’ community are:

  • Acid rain
  • Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)
  • Toxic heavy metals

Let’s first see air pollution and its type.

What is air pollution?

The introduction of harmful agents into the atmosphere is known as air pollution. The toxic agents are known as pollutants. These pollutants are derived from natural and human activities, and they can be chemical or biological.

Major pollutants present in the air are particulate matter (PM), ground-level ozone (O3), NO2, SO2, and CO. Air also has lead, allergens, bacteria, viruses and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Besides climate change, air pollution has become a significant environmental risk to human health. 

What is Outdoor and Indoor pollution?

Air pollution in the outside environment is called outdoor pollution. The examples of outdoor pollution are as follows:

  • Transportation
  • Combustion of fossil fuel
  •  Cooking activities
  • Energy generation and consumption
  • Agriculture
  •  Improper Solid Waste Management
  • Industries and factories
  • Household pollution
  • Celebrations
  • Construction and demolition

Air pollution created inside any closed structure is called indoor pollution. The examples of indoor pollution are as follows:

  • Household activities 
  • Perfumes and fresheners 
  • Cooking fuel/activities
  • Cigarette 
  • Radon 
  • Poor ventilation 
  • Uncleaned furniture 
  • Pets 
  • Asbestos

 There are two leading causes of air pollution- natural pollution (happened due to natural events like dust storms) and anthropogenic pollution (happened due to human activities like combustion of fossil fuels).

Now that we understand air pollution briefly let’s see what insects are and some insect facts in the United States.

Everything you should know about insects

Insects are tiny creatures or animals without having any backbone and have wings. Well, speaking in zoology, insects are the only invertebrates in the animal kingdom. They belong to the Arthropoda group or Arthropoda phylum. These creatures are a long-standing group of animals. Entomologists (the one who studies everything about insects) believe that insects were first detected 400 million years ago.

Insects are almost omnipresent, but you will not see them in the frozen polar environments at the highest and immediate neighbourhood of the active volcanoes. Nevertheless, insects are an integral part of the environment. They help to achieve stability in our nature. Insects are essential to the environment in the following ways:

Insects are responsible for the creation of the biological foundation for all the terrestrial ecosystems. Insects balance the nutrient cycle of the environment. Some insects like earthworms aid to maintain soil structure and to enhance soil nourishment. 

Insects like honeybees also significantly play a role in increasing fruit and flower plants. Again, this is because of the pollination process. Thus, this helps in balancing the food chain.

On the other hand, some insects like ants help to keep your surroundings clean and odourless. In addition, these insects help in the decomposition process of plants and animals.

Insects are badass because they help keep control of the pests or nasty bugs that harm our environment.

However, insects are affected due to the following factors:

  • Usage of fertilizers and pesticides
  • Fluctuations in temperature and moisture
  • Strong chemicals
  • Air pollutants

Some of the insects fondly commonly used in the United States are as follows:

  • Beetles
  • Butterflies and moths
  • Grasshoppers and crickets
  • Ants
  • Bees and yellow jackets
  • Flies and true bugs
  • Wasp and cicadas

After getting the general idea about the insects, let’s see whether the filthy air affects the insects around us.

Does poor air quality affect the insects?

Yes, poor air quality creates a negative impact on the insects. Like humans, air pollution can cause disturbances in the reproduction rates, respiration system and central nervous system. In the environment, the majority of the insects are herbivorous; they all rely on plants for their survival.

Old research is done at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, suggested that air pollution has been connected with direct and indirect effects on the insect populations. Do you know that air pollution affects the green and vegetation of the earth in multiple ways? The air pollutants in the form of gaseous contaminants or acidic water droplets affect the root and shoot system of the plants. When they come in contact with acid rain, the leaves affect their photosynthesis process and turn them yellowish in appearance. D.N. Alstad and G.F. Edmunds, Jr, in 1982, concluded that moths experienced industrial melanism due to the decline of light coloured lichens.

The new research performed by the University of Sheffield stated that plants in contact with elevated air pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide produced more defensive chemicals in their leaves. The research team also observed that the herbivorous insects which directly feed on such leaves disturbed their proper growth. This also led to lowering their population rate. The other secondary insects or animals feeding on these herbivorous insects didn’t receive adequate nutrition and thus affecting the other food web.

In addition, the scientists warned that such a decline in the numbers could lead to malnourishment of the soils. Nitrogen oxide is one of the prominent components of smog and is often produced in the vehicle exhaust and combustion of fossil fuels. Thus, the research further proved that the insects residing in urban areas posed a significant survival risk.

Apart from the leaves loving insects, air pollution can affect the soil-dwelling insects too. Dung beetles and soil act like soulmates; the larvae and adults both feed on the dung and recycle by providing on it. However, immature dung beetles were affected most by the elevated concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Such high-level exposure to carbon dioxide resulted in dung beetles’ decreased chances of going into adulthood. Many entomologists concluded that elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide levels had disturbed the symbiotic relationship in the dung ball. Such an upsurge in the greenhouse gas may initiate the growth of the unwanted microbes eating dung beetle larvae. The researchers of Lund University further revealed that human activities contribute more than 35 billion metric tons of CO2 to the atmosphere every year.

Zvereva, E.L, et al. did another research in the 1990s that stated the effect of air pollution on predators of the leaf beetle. The study aimed to observe the balance of the food chain in the presence of polluted air. They watched the leaf beetles living in the Severonikel nickel-copper smelter zone, which is present in western Russia. The study observed that the population of leaf beetles decreased in a relatively low impacted pollution zone, but it was higher in the polluted pockets of the forest. Moreover, the larvae of the leaf beetle were higher in polluted areas than the clean ones. This was because predators, like wood ants that feed on the larvae, didn’t survive much in the polluted zones.

A recent study done by Spoorthy Raman in 2020 said that the air pollutants are harming the behaviour, health and genes of the pollinating insects. The National Centre did the collaborative research for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bengaluru, and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) revealed that urban air pollution had affected the pollinating abilities of the Giant Asian Honeybees.

The study further found out that particulate pollution severely affects the honeybees’ respiratory, neurological, and cardiovascular systems, resulting in 80% death of the bees. When researchers examined such bees under the microscope, they discovered the particulate matter on the hindlegs, wings and antennae. In addition, heavy toxic metals such as lead, arsenic, tungsten and aluminium were also found.

When the researchers intensely studied the anatomy of the bees, they found out abnormalities in their heart rate that was high due to air pollution. Besides, the number of blood cells was also lower in the bees living in the urban area. Furthermore, the analysis of the bees’ genes found out that there were irregularities in stress responses, immunity, homeostasis and other metabolic functions. They also observed a similar physical trend for fruit flies when exposed to elevated concentrations of air pollution.

The World Wildlife Fund’s special report on pollution also stressed the effects of air pollution on animals. The report noted that as insects are the vital cog of nature wheels, the severe impact of pollution on them is concerning. The report further stated that even minute fluctuations in the air quality compel insects to relocate or change their food intake and diminish their colony sizes.

The report discussed the bees again, and the report warned that the air pollutants break down plan-emitted scent molecules, affecting insect pollinators searching for their food. In addition, these odour modified by the pollution plays with the bees’ brains and makes them confused, thus affecting the pollination process.    

Lastly, a study was done by Tan. Yue et al., in 2018, opened that haze smoke and wildfire smoke can raise a question on the survival and development of the majestic butterflies. The pollutants released from the wildfire smoke, such as ozone and nitrogen dioxides, reacted with the floral volatile compounds. Moreover, the ozone and sulphur compounds also affected the neurotic patches or the internal structure of the leaves. This resulted in the non-uniform growth and delaying of the cocooning process of the silkworm larvae. In addition, the Junonia coenia caterpillars exposed to the high levels of CO2 grew more slowly and experienced more significant mortality.   

 To save your little friends, you need to reduce your carbon footprints consciously. You can also raise a concern if the industries in your region are not following the air quality guidelines. Increase the flowering plants in your neighbouring areas to attract these insects. Ask your farmer friends to avoid using pesticides and chemical fertilizers so that insects can survive. Above all, don’t harm these tiny beings. Enjoy its beauty and appreciate nature.

I am also providing elaborative tips to reduce air pollution and to protect you and our insect buddies.

 What can I do to protect myself from air pollution?

I will elaborate on some of the measures to protect yourself from air pollution.

Personal Hygiene

You can also fight the effects of air pollution by maintaining personal hygiene:

  • You can cut your nails short to avoid the accumulation of dirt. 
  • You can also practice mouth gargling after coming home to free your mouth from unwanted guests.
  • You can also brush twice a day to keep airborne infections at bay.
  • You can also take steam therapy at home to cleanse your lungs.

Quit Smoking

Smoking cigarettes, hookahs (shisha), electric vape or any other types of cigars are not at all suitable for your health. It’s best to stop smoking. Active and passive smoking provides the direct entry of harmful pollutants into your body. This causes the risk to your respiration and other organs dependent on it. 

Physical Exercise 

Physical activities have many benefits to your body. It not only improves your stamina and immunity levels but also helps to increase your lung capacity. Yoga, sanas, swimming, running, cycling, brisk walking and dancing are some of the best forms of exercise to improve your health.

Breathing Exercise 

The majority of people in the world don’t breathe properly. However, correct breathing techniques can keep illnesses due to air pollution at bay. A pranayama is a form of yoga asana which helps to improve breathing methods and lung functionality.

Some of the pranayama types that help you fight air pollution are Kapalbhati, Anulom Vilom, Chandra Nadi, Surya Nadi and Bhastrika. It is strongly recommended to learn this art of breath from a well-certified yoga trainer. 

You can also increase your lung muscles by simply taking a deep breath and holding it for a count of 10. Then, slowly breathe out the air. If you can keep your breath for a longer time, then you have good lungs health.

Good diet 

Always go for a well-balanced diet to remain fit and strong. Consistent eating of junk and fast food will increase the risk of obesity and other diseases. In addition, such people are more vulnerable to the adverse effects of air pollution. Instead, add more fresh veggies and fruits to your diet. Also, you can consume less meat to minimise carbon footprints.

You can also add anti-inflammatory foods as these types of food help to cleanse your lungs effectively. Anti-inflammatory foods which I recommend are: 

Immunity booster drinks

You can do your immunity booster drinks by using readily available items in your kitchen. Immunity booster drinks help to cleanse your lungs. Some of the DIY immunity booster drinks are as follows:

  • Take a glass of warm white milk. Add half a teaspoon of turmeric powder to it. Also, add two strands of saffron to it. Drink it at night before sleeping. You will get good sleep, and you will be relieved from chest congestion. 
  • Boil water by adding half cinnamon stick. Drink the spice-infused water once a day. Your sinuses would be cleared up. 
  • Buy an excellent green tea. Prepare a green tea by following the packet instructions. Have it whenever you feel irritation in your throat. 
  • Take some crushed 1 or 2 peppercorns, a half-inch of a blade of lemongrass and 1 inch of grated ginger and half a teaspoon of turmeric powder. Add everything in one glass of boiling water and reduce it to half a glass. Drink two tablespoons of this spice-infused warm water every after three hours. Adding honey is optional. 
  • You can also drink warm water and add honey if you want. Honey helps to relieve throat irritation.

Use Mask

Mask can prevent you from inhaling the polluted air. You would be able to work in contaminated areas without any fear of allergy infections and stress. 

Masks I recommend

Name Why I recommend it
BASE CAMP CROSSDUST MASKEAPI Filter Technology & Advanced NanotechnologyUser FriendlyMore Durable Six layers face maskFilter materials of the dust mask: Double-Layer Melt-blown with Electrostatic Adsorption Performance, Activated carbon, Non-woven Polypropylene
NIOSH approved N95 maskFour layers mask Flexible nose pad, dual strapsDisposable maskEasy to breathe
BASE CAMP Reusable Cloth Face MaskThree layers mask; 100% cotton Skin-friendly and breathablePocket to add additional filterReusable Mask

How can I individually reduce air pollution?

You can always try your level best to minimise air pollution. The following are the methods to reduce air pollution at an individual level.

Plant Trees

Encourage tree plantation drives amongst the communities. You can be a green saviour of your region. Trees are the natural air purifiers of the environment, and it supplies us with clean air.

Municipal councils or the local authorities can develop urban forests to increase the green cover of the locality. They can also plan to create vertical green walls to improve oxygen levels of the region naturally. But don’t forget to plant only indigenous trees. 

Human/ religious celebrations in eco-friendly ways 

Nowadays, many couples celebrate gender (of their baby) revealing parties by bursting firecrackers. But, unfortunately, these firecrackers can transform into massive wildfires if they are burst near trees.

Thus, you can celebrate such celebrations by planting trees in your nearby barren land. Bursting firecrackers on any religious, festive or personal occasion are only going to harm your loved ones. 

You can also celebrate Christmas by not cutting Christmas Trees. Instead, you can buy artificial ones and use them in the coming years too.

Discourage Plastic

Single-use plastic has been one of the major concerns in the environment. Plastic pollution indirectly contributes to the degradation of air quality. Plastic, when burned, releases various toxic gases such as dioxins into the air.

Encourage alternative use of the plastic product. For example, you can wear a cloth bag for shopping. You can also carry your travel cutlery set to a restaurant. Additionally, you can take your water bottle instead of purchasing a packaged drinking water bottle every time.

Use of public transportation 

Increase the use of public transport to reduce air pollution and traffic congestion. You can also try carpooling or the cab sharing option. Then, you can also use bicycles instead of scooters. Lastly, you can always opt for walking a shorter distance. 

Alternative use of fossil fuel

It would be best to try switching to other fuel alternatives. For example, don’t use wood for the fireplace. Instead, you can wear multiple layers of clothes for warmth. In this way, you can conserve energy. Additionally, you can also install solar panels on house roofs to convert solar energy into electricity. 

You can also buy electric and hybrid vehicles to minimise tailpipe emissions. Finally, propose or discuss a plan with your mayor or any relevant local authority to promote your region’s renewable energy sector.

Reduction of personal carbon footprints

You can also keep a check on your carbon footprints. For example, you can delete unwanted photos, videos or emails from clouds and email boxes as and when possible. Unfortunately, this unwanted stuff takes a lot of energy, which indirectly contributes to air pollution.

You can also switch off the lights and electrical appliances of the vacant rooms. Try buying local products instead of imported ones. Be vocal about them. You can also discover your own country rather than travelling to different ones.

Create Awareness

Air pollution is unpredictable; air pollution in your vicinity can affect people living in Asia and vice-a-versa. However, you can create public awareness about air pollution amongst your community by teaching and interacting with your kids about the importance of good air. 

Educate youth by telling them the ill effects of poor air quality. Then, let your country’s future know that they deserve a better place to live!

How can the local authorities improve the air quality of your region?

You can always observe the changes happening in your surrounding nature. If you experience bad air quality or any activities producing air pollution, you can always concern relevant local authorities or the mayor.

Here are some methods which local authorities can do.

Proper disposal of waste 

Improper solid waste management of an area is an invitation to many diseases and infections. In addition, burning solid waste in public can cause air pollution, although such practices are rare in the US. 

The wastes are mainly disposed of in the engineered landfills and recycled before final disposal to landfills and waste incinerators. 

In addition, waste incinerators help to convert waste into energy.

However, many researchers have claimed that gasification technology or waste-to-energy technology may release harmful gaseous contaminants. Thus, it is necessary that waste collectors rigorously segregate the waste before sending it to waste incinerators. 

The best solution is to minimise waste at a personal level. Statistically, 70% of the waste generated can be recycled effectively. Thus, strive to recycle your waste at a personal level as much as possible.

Reducing air pollution from agriculture

Stubble burning is still practised in some parts of the US. This event contributes to the degradation of air. Local authorities can help farmers convert this waste into cattle fodder or be transformed into pellets as fuel. In addition, farmers should stop the usage of harmful pesticides or fertilisers to decrease air pollution.

How can I reduce indoor air pollution?

Maintaining household or indoor hygiene

You can decrease poor air quality by adequately maintaining indoor hygiene. For example, you can frequently clean your cupboards and open decks to avoid an accumulation of dust particles. You can then vacuum your carpets and sofas at least twice a week. 

Make sure your doggies and cats are well-groomed. Use chimneys and exhaust fans in kitchens. You can also install an exhaust fan in washrooms. Always make sure you are keeping your house well ventilated. 

Keep doors and windows open when possible. Maintain the health of electric appliances such as heaters, humidifiers, AC, fans, air ducts and so on at regular intervals of the year. Avoid overuse of strong perfumes or strong scented candles indoors. You can additionally use indoor plants to make your indoors more lively and fresh.

Indoor plants

Indoor plants do the same work as outdoor ones- they help to purify indoor air naturally. These indoor plants are also easy to maintain.

The indoor plants which I recommend are as follows: 

Air purifiers

Air purifiers help to improve indoor air quality. The risk of getting air pollution-related diseases decreases due to the use of air purifiers. Air purifiers having good HEPA filters do an adequate job of filtering pollutants.

Air Purifiers I recommend are as follows:

NameWhy I recommend it
Blueair Pro XL Air Purifier99.7% of airborne pollutants such as mould, allergens, smoke particles and pollens are captured. 
AIRMEGA 400SReduction of 99.97% of particulates of 0.3 microns. Also responsible for reducing more than 99% of VOCs, NH3 and CH3CHO.Washable and permanent pre-filters are available 
Blueair Pure 121Includes 3-part filtration system. Captures 99% of common airborne PM 2.5 pollutants such as allergens, odours, smoke, mould spores, dust mites and pet dander.An activated carbon filter removes common odours caused by smoke, pets, and gases (VOCs) and smoke caused by wildfires.

Humidifiers

The humidity levels in the office should be maintained between 30 and 50% in the office. This range helps to keep dust mites, mould and other allergens under control. In addition, when AC or heater makes the air in the room dry, humidifiers can maintain correct humidity levels.

Humidifiers I recommend

Name Why I recommend it
Amazon Basics Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier 4 litre of tank capacityAuto shut-off feature and 12 or 24-hour timer settingsIt can be used in both seasons
MOVTIP HumidifierPortable Mini-humidifier500 ml capacity, still produces longer mistsEasy to operate
LEVOIT HumidifierIt can be used for both seasons6 litres of capacity Easy to clean and has a remote control

Dehumidifiers 

Dehumidifiers also work similarly to humidifiers. It controls the high levels of humidity in the office.

Dehumidifiers I recommend

Name Why I recommend it
Pro Breeze DehumidifierCan extract 50 pints of moisture a dayEnergy-saving auto-off systemBuilt-in Humidity sensor
HOmeLabs DehumidifierEliminates moistness, odour controllerEasy to cleanRemovable water tank
TCL Portable Dehumidifier20 pints of moisture removed per dayIt can be operated at low temperatures tooEasy to maintain

Other FAQs about Air Quality that you may be interested in.

How does air pollution affect nature?

Can Poor Air Quality Cause Sore Throat?

Can Poor Air Quality Cause Sinus Issues?

Conclusion

In this blog post, we discussed “How does air pollution affect insects?” Firstly, we briefly talked about air pollution and its type. Then, the article gave information about insects in the United States. In addition, it emphasized whether poor air quality affects insects. In the end, the article gave solutions to minimize air pollution so that your bit of a contribution can save the insect world.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): How does air pollution affect insects?

How does air pollution affect insects?

Air pollutants in the atmosphere cause the formation of toxic clouds, which causes acid rains. The acid rains cause pollution in the water bodies by changing the acidity levels. Such acidification has harmed the insect lives. Species such as Ephemeroptera decline as the Ph levels are lowered. However, some acidity tolerant species might survive. Overall, air pollution reduces insect richness and productivity.

What are the effects of air pollution on animals?

The effects of air pollution on animals are as follows:

  • Disruption of endocrine function
  • Organ injury
  • Weak immune system
  • Lower reproductive rate
  • Death

How do insects adapt to pesticides?

Insects are famous for their insecticides resistance. However, some of the insects which don’t carry these resistance genes die. Whereas the insects having such resistance genes survive and reproduce to create more such insects.

Do insects clean water?

Yes, aquatic insects clean water. Biologists have observed that these creatures help monitor the water quality of various water bodies such as streams, rivers and lakes. Examples of such species are mayflies, stoneflies and caddisflies.

Can bugs become immune to spray?

Yes, bugs become immune to spray. Many insects evolve and become resistant to such sprays. Although, this process takes many generations. Once these bugs swallow the spray, they can be immune to the otherwise deadly chemicals.

How can air pollution affect the ecosystem?

Air pollution can do the following things to the ecosystem:

  • Damage to the green cover
  • Deterioration of the aquatic life
  • Harm to wildlife and biodiversity
  • Depletion of the natural resources
  • Ozone layer depletion

References

Air Pollution. World Health Organization. Available at: https://www.who.int/health-topics/air-pollution#tab=tab_1

Britton, A.D., 2020. What are insects? The Australian Museum. Available at: https://australian.museum/learn/animals/insects/what-are-insects/

Bryne, M. & Tocco, C., 2021. Dung beetle experiment suggests carbon dioxide is bad for insects too. Down To Earth. Available at: https://www.downtoearth.org.in/blog/pollution/dung-beetle-experiment-suggests-carbon-dioxide-is-bad-for-insects-too-78861  

Canada, E.and C.C., 2012. Government of Canada. Canada.ca. Available at: https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/air-pollution/quality-environment-economy/ecosystem/wild-animals.html

Pollution in cities damaging insects and ecosystems. ScienceDaily. Available at: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/11/181109112712.htm

Raman, S., 2020. Toxic pollutants in the air are taking a toll on pollinating insects. Research Matters. Available at: https://researchmatters.in/news/toxic-pollutants-air-are-taking-toll-pollinating-insects

Tan, Y.Q., Dion, E. & Monteiro, A. Haze smoke impacts survival and development of butterflies. Sci Rep 8, 15667 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-34043-0

Wildlife and pets are affected by air pollution too. Venta North America. Available at: https://www.venta-air.com/en_us/wildlife-pets-affected-air-pollution/  

Zvereva, E.L. & Kozlov, M.V., 2000. Effects of air pollution on natural enemies of the leaf beetle Melasoma Lapponica. Journal of Applied Ecology, 37(2), pp.298–308.

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