Mosquitoes. What Are They Good For?

Credit: CC

Credit: CC

Not much. In fact, the mosquito has long been extremely annoying and extremely deadly, with one half of all human deaths since the Stone Age being attributed to mosquitoes. They are vectors of several human diseases, including encephalitis, filariasis, yellow fever, dengue, and malaria. They also spread West Nile virus from birds to horses and people. An interesting episode of Radiolab tried to provide a balanced perspective of the mosquito’s value and their right to life. Episode title: Kill ‘Em All

There are different theories as to why mosquitoes seem to target certain people more than others. We know that various factors are involved. Supposedly, bigger people and fidgety people are more attractive to mosquitoes because they produce more CO2 and lactic acid (both of which are known as mosquito attractants). Women who are pregnant attract mosquitoes more than women who are not pregnant. Some people seem to produce a natural mosquito repellant that makes them less likely to be bitten. A recent study indicates that there are specific genes that affect how each person smells to mosquitoes.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 3.2 billion people are at risk of malaria. An estimated 584,000 people died from malaria in 2013 and 90 percent of those who died were living in the WHO African Region. “Not only poor people should experience this,” said Bill Gates, as he unleashed a swarm of mosquitoes into the audience at the TED conference in 2009. It was a very effective method of getting the audience’s attention.

The FDA is deciding whether or not to approve the use of genetically modified mosquitoes in the Florida Keys. There is a particular species of mosquito—Aedes aegypti—that carries dengue fever and chikungunya, thus posing a significant threat. Years of spraying have enabled mosquitoes to build a natural resistance to most pesticides. There has been controversy because some Floridians are opposed to the use of genetically modified anything, including mosquitoes that have been genetically engineered to control mosquito-borne illnesses.

Here are 14 unpleasant facts about mosquitoes. Despite the problems (death and illnesses) caused by mosquitoes, it is important to keep in mind the words of Aldo Leopold:

“The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant, ‘What good is it?’ If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”