Kill all the mosquitoes

The idea that we should just kill every mosquito on the planet often crosses my mind as I sit in my room fending hordes of them off my ankles. And with good reason; they kill more people than any other animal, and probably more than all other animal species combined.

I’ve even issued a challenge to various friends and passersby unfortunate enough to have to listen to my rant about this: I’d like the world’s top ecologists to defend the importance of mosquitoes. Marshall all the best evidence, and make the most compelling case for their continued existence. This isn’t something natural resources and ecology types normally do – discussions of ecological changes tend toward an emphasis on the unbreakable circle of life and the possibility that losing one species of moth someplace will lead to the demise of the human race. But a recent article from Nature does exactly the kind of analysis I wanted. And the verdict is that, well, mosquitoes can all go to hell:

Ultimately, there seem to be few things that mosquitoes do that other organisms can’t do just as well — except perhaps for one. They are lethally efficient at sucking blood from one individual and mainlining it into another, providing an ideal route for the spread of pathogenic microbes.

That last bit is false, of course – mosquitoes don’t inject previous targets’ blood into their current host, which is why they don’t spread HIV. But the overall sentiment is one I can get behind.

I can’t resist criticizing this line, though: “few scientists would suggest that the costs of an increased human population would outweigh the benefits of a healthier one.” The idea that an increased human population is a ridiculous fallacy. Let’s frame it a different way: should we be happy with the benefit of a decreased human population due to mosquitoes? That is, should we treat higher mortality, especially more babies in poor countries dying, as a pro? I’d like to see less of this line of reasoning from people talking about demographic trends; it’s somewhere between uninformed and offensive.

Hat tip: topnaman

4 thoughts on “Kill all the mosquitoes”

    1. To summarize what I know about malaria transmission, the protozoan parasite actually infects the mosquito itself, and after gestating in there it reproduces and gets its young into the mosquito’s saliva:

      Mosquitoes *do* inject saliva into their hosts, in order to prevent blood clotting.

      The other aspect that’s relevant to HIV prevention is that mosquitoes rarely take consecutive blood meals. Once a female has consumed blood, she is typically off to spawn.

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