INTRODUCTION: Climate change has been scientifically documented, and its effects on wildlife have been prognosticated. We sought to predict the overall impact of climate change on venomous terrestrial species. We hypothesize that given the close relationship between terrestrial venomous species and climate, a changing global environment may result in increased species migration, geographical redistribution, and longer seasons for envenomation, which would have repercussions on human health.
METHODS: A retrospective analysis of environmental, ecological, and medical literature was performed with a focus on climate change, toxinology, and future modeling specific to venomous terrestrial creatures. Species included venomous reptiles, snakes, arthropods, spiders, and Hymenoptera (ants and bees). Animals that are vectors of hemorrhagic infectious disease (eg, mosquitos, ticks) were excluded.
RESULTS: Our review of the literature indicates that changes to climatic norms will have a potentially dramatic effect on terrestrial venomous creatures. Empirical evidence demonstrates that geographic distributions of many species have already shifted due to changing climatic conditions. Given that most terrestrial venomous species are ectotherms closely tied to ambient temperature, and that climate change is shifting temperature zones away from the equator, further significant distribution and population changes should be anticipated. For those species able to migrate to match the changing temperatures, new geographical locations may open. For those species with limited distribution capabilities, the rate of climate change may accelerate faster than species can adapt, causing population declines. Specifically, poisonous snakes and spiders will likely maintain their population numbers but will shift their geographic distribution to traditionally temperate zones more often inhabited by humans. Fire ants and Africanized honey bees are expected to have an expanded range distribution due to predicted warming trends. Human encounters with these types of creatures are likely to increase, resulting in potential human morbidity and mortality.
CONCLUSIONS: Temperature extremes and changes to climatic norms may have a dramatic effect on venomous terrestrial species. As climate change affects the distribution, populations, and life histories of these organisms, the chance of encounters could be altered, thus affecting human health and the survivability of these creatures.