Light pollution increases mosquito-biting season

A new study suggests that urban light pollution may alter the winter dormancy period of West Nile virus-carrying mosquitoes.

The study by researchers at Ohio State University recently published in the scientific journal Insects It can be bad news and good news too. The good news is that disease-carrying mosquitoes may not survive the winter if their torpor is prolonged and they run out of supplies. The bad news is that their dormant period, known as diapause, can simply be delayed, meaning they will continue to bite people and animals longer into the fall.

If mosquitoes postpone or delay diapause and remain active longer during the year, it is precisely at this time that they are most likely to be infected with West Nile virus and people are most at risk of contracting it. This study is the first to show that artificial light at night can significantly influence mosquito behavior, even effects that are not necessarily predictable.

The diapause of northern female domestic mosquitoes (Culex pipiens) is not exactly a winter torpor, but rather a period of inactivity in which insects live in caves, sewers, sheds and other semi-protected places. Before the onset of winter, mosquitoes convert sugar sources, such as plant nectar, into fat. As the days go by, females begin to seek blood (protein) to produce eggs. Some mosquitoes become infected with West Nile virus by feeding on infected birds and later transmit the virus by feeding on people, horses, and other mammals.

This study is based on the fact that day length dictates when diapause should begin and, according to a previous study, female mosquitoes exposed to dim light at night did not diapause and became reproductively active even on short days of winter. The study provided further evidence that insect activity decreases during diapause, but the circadian rhythm of this activity is maintained, even during this period of torpor.

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The introduction of artificial light at night affects these activity patterns and influences the acquisition by mosquitoes of the nutrient stores needed to fatten and withstand winter temperatures. Exposure to light pollution suppressed the amount of sugars that mosquitoes accumulated. In mosquitoes subjected to light pollution, mosquitoes did not accumulate much glycogen on long days, but on short days.

This can be bad for humans, as mosquitoes can bite us longer, but it can also be bad for mosquitoes, as they may not accumulate enough energy to survive the winter during diapause.


Light pollution disrupts seasonal differences in the daily activity and metabolic profiles of the northern house mosquito, Culex pipiens

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