Nobody likes mosquitoes. They swarm around you and buzz in your ear, they bite you which can be crazy itchy, and they carry some really bad diseases. Mosquitoes are the most deadly animal to humans on earth, having killed approximately 500,000 people in 2015 alone. Why not just kill them all and be done with it? Believe it or not, there are reasons to keep them around. Mosquitoes have been around a long time. The Mother Nature Network dates the oldest found mosquito (that is similar to ours today) back about 79 million years. That means they have been a part of our ecosystem for a long time as well. They are a reliable source of food for many animals. And of the more than 3,000 species of mosquitoes only 3 are the primary source of disease spread to humans: the Anopheles, the Culex, and the Aedes.
What Harm Could Mosquito Extinction Really Cause?
Besides the fact that trying to kill every living mosquito would be wildly expensive, the method for eliminating mosquitoes in that quantity would have other repercussions. Joseph M. Conlon, the technical Advisor American Mosquito Control Association and an entomologist with the Navy, tells Vice News “I don’t think it’s realistic because there is going to be no silver bullet that is going to eradicate them all.” Professor Rich Merritt of Michigan State University has worked with mosquitoes for 25 years and he believes the eradication of mosquitoes could cause great environmental harm because it would be eliminating a food source. Fish, birds, spiders, bats, and many other organisms feed on mosquitoes. He also believes them to be a kind of “filter feeder” and in the way that they feed they actually help to keep water clean in some habitats. Omar D. Akbar of the University of California describes mosquitoes as possibly the most dangerous animal in the world, but he too thinks extermination is going too far and could greatly affect “aquatic ecosystems globally”.
Maybe There is a Compromise
It is the female mosquito that feeds off of human blood for the protein needed to create eggs. So what if we made the mosquitoes all born males? They wouldn’t spread disease and eventually they would have no mates and die off completely. Not all mosquitoes of course, just those core species that wreak so much havoc globally. The Anopheles is the major carrier of malaria in sub-Saharan Africa. Malaria kills more than 400,000 people a year. Aedes aegypti carries Zika, dengue, chikungunya, and yellow fever. What if we could eventually eliminate these 2 species of mosquito with genetic engineering? There is research for several different genetic altering systems happening right now. In one, they program the mosquitoes to develop as males and then use a technology that makes it more likely for this gene to be inherited. Eventually killing off the species entirely. There is another that alters males so that their offspring don’t survive or are unable to reproduce. The Walls Street Journal writes of a company, Oxitec that has already field tested this technology in a small environment. However, there are many diplomatic and political hurdles ahead for this technology to become a real solution for conquering the disease these specific mosquitoes carry. $75 million from the Gates Foundation is being invested in the Target Malaria project and part of that will be used to train for more testing. Work is ongoing and researchers are hopeful, but time will be the only truth teller.
At Mosquito Squad of Louisville, we will continue to keep you informed of the latest changes and strides in the global war against mosquito-borne illness. And if you want to know more about how you can fight the smaller battle in your own backyard call us today.