Out of Africa, Into Europe | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 24.04.2002
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Out of Africa, Into Europe

An increasing number of tropical insects are making a new home in Europe. This is partly due to warmer European winters and increasing travel and trade.


A tiny brown insect is munching its way across Europe.

This insect, the pelargonium brown, native in South Africa, first set its tiny feet in Spain, ten years ago.

Its favourite food is the wild pelargonium, a variety of geranium.

But cultivated geraniums, which now grow in abundance in domestic gardens and on balconies are proving just as tasty as their wild counterparts for these small brown creatures.

Indeed, the pelargonium brown is munching its way up through Europe. It has already travelled half way up France.

More to come

The pelargonium brown is just one of various tropical insects to invade the European continent - the result of a sucession of relatively warm winters in recent years.

The spread of tropical insects in Europe was disclosed in a report by a French research group last month, warning that some of these travelling insects could even outstrip native species.

Filling the gap

In recent years various species of insects which were once limited to Africa have made a new home in European countries.

But as these new species travel further north, they may be set to fill an increasing gap left by diminishing, native European wildlife - also the result of a changing climate.

According to the MONARCH report (Modelling Natural Resource Responses to Climate Change), warmer weather spreading north west from Europe will extend the range of many different species of plants and animals.

But it will also reduce ranges of already vulnerable species. In Britain's northern mountain regions of Wales and Scotland, for instance, species will literally have nowhere left to go if pushed further north.

In addition, rising sea-levels are expected to cause widespread flooding of coastal habitats, endangering numerous species of plants, mammals and insects.

However, the report also says that the news is not only bad as various species of other southern butterflies will move north.

By ship, plane or wind

Tropical insects are said to have been arriving in Europe for decades, either by ship, plane or wind.

One butterfly which has managed to reach regions further north is Anatrachyntis rileyi, a rare African butterfly. It has already spread its wings in Spain and is now also well established on the French Mediterranean coast.

This is largely due to a succession of relatively mild winters, possibly caused by global warming, which have allowed these species to survive.

Scientists now fear these new species, such as the pelargonium brown, may one day oust native ones. But until this happens, the pelargonium has many geraniums to munch yet.

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