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Researchers are finding that insect pests have become habituated to life in big cities, causing them to evolve in a unique manner that is quite different from how other insects are evolving in rural and uninhabited areas of the planet. In fact, it would not be inaccurate to categorize big cities as a new type of ecosystem, and considering how well insects have survived numerous global catastrophes during their 100 to 350 million years on this planet, it should not be surprising to learn that insects are adapting to urban life as well.

Insects began to follow a different evolutionary pathway once humans settled and established small communities within areas that had always been free of human activity. Therefore, the unique evolutionary adaptations that are being observed in urban insects today actually began thousands of years ago when humans started to build small agrarian communities. The emergence of agriculture around ten thousand years ago allowed humans to settle in one place as opposed to maintaining a nomadic life of hunting. Once humans began to rely on a single piece of land for sustenance, they began to alter their surrounding environment. Eventually, humans created more densely populated villages and towns, and this is when certain insect species began to adapt to a shared habitat with humans. In other words, this moment in human history marked the beginning of the evolutionary pathway that some insects took to become the urban pests that they are today.

Some insect pests have even adapted to human mobility, as human life can survive in most climatic regions, allowing humans to travel, so why can’t insects? The result of this mutual living arrangement between humans and insects is clear when considering insect pests like bed bugs and cockroaches, which are two pests that have come to rely on their human counterparts in order to thrive. Unfortunately, insects have become so well adapted to urban life among humans that now insects are able to adapt a resistance to manmade insecticides as well. This is precisely why researchers are looking into the application of biological insecticides as an urban pest control strategy. Some biological insecticides that are currently being developed make use of highly toxic insect venoms in order to control insect pest populations.

Do you believe insect pest evolution within cities will eventually make urban insect pests immune to all forms of insecticides?