Effects on Humans
The human body provides food and shelter for the crab louse and 2 forms of human LOUSE (head and pubic lice). FLEAS and bedbugs obtain food from human bodies and inhabit human dwellings between blood meals. Out of doors, humans are attacked by blood-sucking FLIES (MOSQUITOES, BLACK FLIES, horse and stable flies), which torment victims and may cause toxic or allergic reactions. In Canada, human dwellings, barns and other buildings are essential for the survival of insects from warmer climes (eg, COCKROACHES, clothes MOTHS, carpet BEETLES, silverfish and some species of ANTS).
Many blood-sucking insects are vectors of human diseases, picking up the disease organism while feeding on an infected host (human or animal) and infecting subsequent victims. Human lice are important vectors of trench fever, relapsing fever and epidemic typhus; fleas can transmit plague bacilli from rodents to humans; and different species of mosquitoes transmit malaria and encephalitis. In these diseases, the insect is an essential part of the chain of development of the disease organism, but other diseases are transmitted mechanically. The house fly, which occurs almost worldwide, breeds on organic wastes and can carry disease organisms to food.
Attacks on Livestock
Livestock are attacked by the same types of insects as humans. Each type of livestock is attacked by one or more species of lice, which causes lack of vigour and stunted growth. Blood-sucking flies (eg, face, horn and the introduced stable fly) feed on and pester cattle, reducing growth and milk production. In some areas, mosquitoes or black flies may be so abundant that they reduce cattle feeding and may cause stampedes. Native black flies can cause severe anemia and even death. Cattle raised in black fly areas are somewhat resistant to attack, but animals brought in for herd improvement lack resistance and suffer severely or die.
Effects on Plants
Intensive agriculture encourages the development of insect pests by concentrating food items (CROP plants and stored food) on which insects can feed. Food-plant concentrations, often in monoculture, also may reduce the effectiveness of natural enemies attacking pest species in natural environments. Insects may attack any part of the plant, at any stage of development.
Seed grains and potatoes are attacked by wireworms; newly germinated seedlings of almost all crops are attacked by cutworms, while flea beetles are a major pest of newly germinated canola and other cruciferous crops; growing plants are fed on by climbing cutworms, armyworms, APHIDS, Colorado potato beetles, etc; corn ears are fed on by corn borers and grain ears by several species of aphids. Several species of beetles and moths may infest stored grain, and other species of these groups feed on flour and processed foods.
Losses caused by insect attack and costs of control are difficult to determine and little information on this subject is available. Yield losses of up to 5% per year and a maximum of 25% are estimated for CEREAL grains and of 5-10% for canola, despite expenditures for pesticides. The average yield loss is only 3% of onion, apple and potato crops, but these losses would be 30-70% on onions, 50-100% on apples and and 30-50% on potatoes if insecticides were not used.
Transmission of Plant Diseases
Sucking insects that transmit infections from diseased to healthy plants seriously affect several crop plants in Canada. Serious damage can be caused by very few infected insects. Aphids are the only vectors of barley yellow-dwarf virus of cereals, which drastically reduces grain yields. Leafhoppers transmit aster yellows, which affects not only asters but also lettuce, celery, carrots and potatoes. Aphids also transmit virus diseases of potatoes, a continuing threat to production in eastern Canada. In BC, cherries and peaches may be infested by the little cherry virus disease carried by leafhoppers.
Damage to Forest Trees and Wood Products
Canadian forests are composed mainly of a few tree species, and these stands are normally subject to attack by insects, especially when they reach maturity. Insects (eg, spruce budworm, hemlock looper and various species of bark beetles) kill old trees to make way for regeneration. They now compete with man for forest resources. In Ontario, Québec and the Atlantic provinces, outbreaks of spruce budworm have occurred periodically for many centuries. Elm bark beetle transmits the Dutch elm disease that has decimated North American elms.
Since 1950, PESTICIDES have been used to prevent tree death and to maintain sustained tree-harvesting programs. Unfortunately, spraying has prolonged the outbreaks so that some parts of these forests must be sprayed yearly. Bark beetles occupy a similar position in western forests, normally attacking overaged or weakened trees. They not only compete with people for wood but also are pests in parks, where overaged stands are maintained for aesthetic reasons.
The interior of lumber, poles and wooden portions of buildings may be hollowed out to form nests by black carpenter ants. In addition to serious structural damage, these large ants can be household pests, feeding on moist foodstuffs and sometimes damaging fabrics and paper products. TERMITES can cause serious structural damage to buildings. In Canada they occur in southern BC and Ontario and within more northerly cities such as Ottawa and Winnipeg.
See also individual species entries.
Author W.J. TURNOCK
Links to Other Sites
Mountain Pine Beetle
Meet the beetle and find out about current efforts to eradicate the little pest that has been destroying vast regions of Canada’s forests. From Natural Resources Canada.
This tasty website offers a basketful of online resources about commercial tree fruit production. Also features information about tree fruit pests and fact sheets for backyard gardeners about varieties of tree fruit that can be grown in BC.
Canadian Food Inspection Agency
See the latest news about food saftey issues in Canada from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Check out the colourful AboutKidsHealth website for online articles on hundreds of childhood ailments, medications, behavioural issues, and medical procedures. Also offers an animated "How the Body Works" feature, and much more. From the Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto.
An extensively illustrated guide to wildlife species found in British Columbia. Covers bats, birds, beetles, bugs and much more. Also features an insect glossary and notes about invasive species. A biogeographic initiative of the Lab for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Department of Geography, UBC.
Learn all about angry arachnids and irascible insects in this online introduction to entomology. Features a glossary, great photos, graphs, charts and more. From Natural Resources Canada.
The Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes
This website provides information about the scope and contents of the Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes. Check the “Index” link for illustrated descriptions of various taxonomic groups.
University of Alberta's E.H. Strickland Entomological Museum
Check out images and information about insect specimens found in the University of Alberta's E.H. Strickland Entomological Museum, one of the most significant insect collections in Canada.
An online guide to benthic invertebrates found in or on the bottom sediments of rivers, streams, and lakes in Ontario and other regions of Canada. From ecospark.ca
Aquatic Invertebrates of Alberta Online Textbook
An online guide to all major groups of Alberta's aquatic invertebrates. Offers illustrated details of the natural history of each group as well as tips on collecting and preserving specimens. A University of Alberta website.
This site features a map illustrating the occurances of white-nose syndrome in North American bat populations. From the US Geological Survey.