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Invasive insects costing the world at least $100 billion a year

But the authors of the new study published in Nature Communications on October 4, 2016, say cost figures are “grossly underestimated” because they only cover part of the global costs.

The research was led by Franck Courchamp, the CNRS research director at Laboratoire Ecologie, Systématique et Evolution (Université Paris-Sud/CNRS/AgroParisTech) and including entomologists from IRD Montpellier and a CNRS economist, according to Phys.Org.

The team brought together a massive database that included over 700 scientific studies that included papers, books and journal reports. The researchers amassed a comprehensive and detailed report on the economic damages attributable to invasive insects worldwide.

The resulting study covers damage to goods and services, health care costs and agricultural losses. Because most of the studies researched by the team focused on North America and Europe, it is easy to see why the loss figures are underestimated because many parts of the world do not offer enough economic data to produce accurate estimates.

Annually  Formosan termites cause over $1 Billion of damage in the US alone  and the Gulf Coast is a...
Annually, Formosan termites cause over $1 Billion of damage in the US alone, and the Gulf Coast is a known hot spot for these invasive pests.
University of Florida- IFAS Extension


A rogue’s gallery of the most damaging invasive pests
The Formosan subterranean termite (Coptotermes formosanus) is by far the costliest invasive pest. These termites live in huge colonies and not devour wooden structures, but living trees as well. This pest has taken over large sections of the U.S. and is very difficult to eradicate.

Economic losses from the Formosan termite average $30.2 billion per year globally, while in the U.S., the estimated costs incurred from structural damages by these termites is about 50 percent of the global costs.

The brown spruce longhorn beetle is an invasive insect from Europe that is now found in Canada and t...
The brown spruce longhorn beetle is an invasive insect from Europe that is now found in Canada and the U.S. It is known as a secondary forest insect, attacking trees that have already been subjected to other types of insect attack or environmental stresses.
Natural Resources Canada


Following close behind the Formosan termite is the diamondback moth (Plutella xylostella) that originated in the Mediterranean region. It is a voracious eater of cruciferous crops such as broccoli, cauliflower, and especially cabbage. In the U.S. alone, damages from this insect pest cost about $4.6 billion per year.

There are several other very costly insects, like the brown spruce longhorn beetle (Tetropium fuscum), that costs neighboring Canada about US$4.5 billion per year, and the Gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar), and the Asian long-horned beetle (Anoplophora glabripennis), the later two insects costing an estimated $3.2 billion annually in the U.S. and in Europe.

An overview of healthcare and agricultural losses worldwide
It was clear from the study that the U.S, has borne the brunt of the global costs from invasive insects, followed by Europe. As the research study says, Insects are “probably the costliest animal group to human society.” when it comes to economic losses.

Diamondback moth larvae dining on cabbage.
Diamondback moth larvae dining on cabbage.
University of Illinois


But the biggest chunk of the costs is in healthcare and agricultural losses. And we are not including the costs associated with the impact of malaria, the Zika virus or economic losses in tourism or productivity globally. Dengue fever, a tropical disease spread by mosquitoes is responsible for 84 percent of the over $8.0 billion in healthcare losses worldwide, and that’s a really big bill.

Agricultural losses account for almost 40 percent of the total on economic losses due to invasive insect species by eating our crops. They eat enough crops in one year to feed one billion people.

A female Anopheles albimanus mosquito is not only responsible for the spread of Malaria  but the Zik...
A female Anopheles albimanus mosquito is not only responsible for the spread of Malaria, but the Zika virus. The healthcare costs for these two diseases is astronomical, but was not included in the study.
James Gathany /CDC


But with all the costs involved, it is good to know that of the 2.5 million insect species in the world today, only about 2,200 have ended up being invasive, colonizing new territories. More interesting is that only 10 percent of the insects that try to become established in new territories ever do gain a foothold.
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Written By

Karen Graham is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for environmental news. Karen's view of what is happening in our world is colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in man's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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