While most of us probably think of Greenland as a big hunk of white on the map, the huge northern island actually has been getting warmer as a result of climate change that's melting its ice sheet and contributing a lot to global sea level rise. But for Greenland's residents, global warming is causing another disturbing trend: A big increase in swarms of blood-hungry mosquitoes, eager to bite anything and anyone they can.
Two species of mosquitoes, Aedes nigripes and Aedes impinger, long have plagued the island during its summers.
In the late 1800s, a visitor to the island described the unpleasant experience of awakening to discover that his tent was filled with the flying insects.
"I put on my clothes with all speed and rushed out into the open air to escape my tormentors, but this was transferring myself from the frying pan into the fire," he recalled. "Whole clouds of these bloodthirsty demons swooped upon my face and hands."
He eventually was reduced to wearing a bandana over his face and pulling his cap down to cover his head and neck.
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But as a recent Vice article details, Greenland's traditional mosquito woes have escalated, now that ponds in which the insects' eggs hatch are thawing earlier than ever before.
"The mosquitoes go through their development faster which means there are fewer days to be eaten by a predator," Dartmouth College ecologist Lauren Culler told Vice. "Lab studies, field studies, and population models show that a warming climate means more mosquitoes survive until adulthood."
The mosquito plague poses a serious threat to Greenland's caribou, who are migrating to the fields where they birth their caves at just about the time that the mosquitoes now are reaching adulthood and are ready to bite. As the Vice article notes, caribou's only defense against mosquitoes is to run to high, windy locations to avoid them.
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As Culler told the publication, mosquito avoidance is interfering with the the larger animal's feeding and care of its young. That may be a factor in the drastic decline in the caribou population, from 472,000 in 1986 to just 32,000 in 2010.
Additionally, a study published in 2013 found that mosquitoes caught at an air force base on the island tested positive for a virus that can cause encephalitis in humans.