Are humans affecting the regular daytime habits of insects?

Turns out, there’s not a lot of research on this. So Texas insect expert Wizzie Brown shares her own observations.

By Laura RiceOctober 17, 2022 1:10 pm, , , ,

Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service Specialist Wizzie Brown has been opening up the worlds of insects – from acrobat ants to walkingsticks –for Texas Standard since the launch of this program in 2015. While she’s always solicited questions, now, she’s sharing the answers with everyone. First up, this one:

I recently listened to a discussion about how during this anthropocentric time, much of the rest of the animal world has adapted by doing their business at night. Can the same be said about insects? Meaning, is there evidence there was a time insects were more active during the day, but that changed when human activities’ negative impact forced insects to adjust their clocks?

(For those unfamiliar, anthropocentric essentially means that humans are the most important entity in the universe and everything else revolves around humans.)

Brown did some research on this and could not find any specific references or articles relating to this topic when it comes to insects. She shares the following, with the caveat that it is purely her opinion and thoughts. She welcomes disagreement.

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So – are humans affecting the daytime activities of insects?

“I personally don’t think that we, as humans, have had a direct effect on insects changing their activity. Unless you want to talk about stuff that is maybe indoors and specifically related to us or even feeding on us,” Brown says.

Insects that regularly adjust to human activity:

“If you think about bedbugs, then they’re going to definitely change when their feeding habits are – dependent upon when people are sleeping. So most people sleep at night. And so those bedbugs are going to come out at night and they’re going to feed on humans while they’re sleeping. But there have been documented cases of people, like shift workers and stuff, that sleep during the day. And if they have bedbugs, those bedbugs actually switch their sleep or their activity to whenever that person is sleeping. So that can affect things, but they are a direct ectoparasite of us that require our blood for them to actually survive and reproduce and all of that stuff,” Brown says.

Insects with daytime habits:

“If we’re talking about just like general insects outside flying around, there are a huge number of insects that are diurnal, which essentially means that they are active in the daytime. So not all of the insects are nocturnal and active at night. If we think about pollinators, the majority of the insect pollinators are going to be active during the day because that is when the majority of those flowers are going to be open and accessible for those insects to get their nectar and pollen and other things that they require. But if we’re talking about nocturnal blooming flowers, a lot of those are pollinated by either bats or there are some nighttime flying moths, some of the hawk moths or sphinx moths that will actually feed on those particular flowers. So it’s really going to be dependent upon food resources,” Brown says.

Other factors affecting insect habits:

“Another thing that could certainly affect things is predation. If you’re thinking about insects and things that may eat them, then that could definitely change their behavior. So a lot of spiders are going to be nocturnal because they’re going to be avoiding being eaten by larger animals where they are coming out and actually hunting for animals as well at night. The other thing to take into consideration is all of the insects that live in the soil, and light really isn’t going to penetrate down in the soil. So it’s not really going to affect them one way or the other,” Brown says.

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