Malformation of True Bug (Heteroptera): a Phenotype Field Study on the Possible Influence of Artificial Low-Level Radioactivity



The results of extensive field studies on the malformation of Western European true bugs (Heteroptera) are reviewed. More than 16,000 individuals were collected over two decades, and subjected to detailed visual inspection. Various types of disturbances were found and illustrated in detail. Depending on country, region, as well as local influences, severe disturbances and high degrees of malformation were noticed, especially in the sphere of nuclear-power installations in Switzerland (Aargau), France (La Hague), and Germany (Gundremmingen). Malformation reached values as high as 22 and 30% for morphological (MD) and total disturbance (TD), respectively. This is far above the values expected for natural populations (ca. 1%) or those determined for true bugs living in biotopes considered as relatively ‘intact’ (1–3%). A detailed chi-square test of the malformation data obtained for 650 true bugs from 13 collection sites near the nuclear-reprocessing plant La Hague showed a highly significant correlation (p=0.003) between malformation and wind exposure/local topography. Similar observations were made for other study sites. Currently, our data are best rationalized by assuming a direct influence between the release of anthropogenic radionuclides such as tritium (3H), carbon-14 (14C), or iodine-131 (131I), constantly emitted by nuclear-power and nuclear-reprocessing plants, as well as by Chernobyl and bomb-testing fallout, which is rich in caesium-137 (137Cs) and other long-lived noxious isotopes that have entered the food chain. The present work supports the growing evidence that low-level radiation, especially in the form of randomly scattered ‘hot’ α- and β-particles, mainly transported via aerosols, puts a heavy burden on the biosphere in general, and on true bugs in particular. These insects could, thus, serve as sensitive ‘bio-indicators’ for future studies.