Would We Maybe Miss Mosquitoes?

It’s a buggy time of year and I’m feeling swarmed and itchy. Mosquitoes are in the family Culicadae and a common genus around here is Anopheles. In Greek, ano means “not” and ophelos means “profit.”  By that term, mosquitoes are defined as “useless.”

The persistent critters seemed worse than useless to me when I was a kid trying to sleep and, no matter how many I swatted, there was always one last mosquito in my room humming the lullaby of the damned.  I’d wake up with more itchy bumps the next morning.

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Those bloodsuckers (ectoparasites) are the female mosquitoes.  They need the blood to produce eggs.  The male sticks to sipping nectar and then swarms with the other guys at dusk until a female enters their midst to mate, an aerial bar scene.  A couple weeks later, they die.

I like to think that all the species in nature have their purposes and that we would miss them if they became extinct.  Bugs and other pests probably inspired humans to create shelter and clothing, so maybe architects, builders, and the garment industry should feel beholden to them. Also, without female mosquitoes, there would have been no Jurassic Park!  Their little bodies embedded in amber were the vessels for the DNA of long-extinct dinosaurs, brought back to life, or so the story goes.

I set out to look for arguments on behalf of mosquitoes and couldn’t find a single convincing one. Instead I found some widespread consensus that mosquitoes would not be missed if they were eliminated from the earth.  According to experts, their ecological niche would be filled in no time.  Certain animals that have evolved to eat the insects and their larvae, such as the mosquitofish, would miss them for a while until they found other prey.  Animals that I thought depended on a diet of mosquitoes, like bats, would not be all that affected.  When scientists examined the contents of bat bellies, they found mostly moths and only 2% mosquitoes in there.

A million people die each year from malaria carried by mosquitoes, and that is just one of many deadly diseases they spread.  In the Midwest, we worry about getting West Nile virus. Will we ever wipe out disease-carrying mosquitoes or will they wipe us out first?  We can tell them to buzz off and zap them with insecticide and, within a few generations, within less than a year, their species can develop resistance to it.

The Culcidae tribe has been around for at least 79 million years and it looks like they’ll be buzzing around our ears for a few zillion more.

 

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