In Defense of Mosquitoes

An impressive shot of a mosquito by Tom on Flickr

Have you ever wondered what binds humanity together? I mean, besides the simple stuff like sharing a planet and whatnot. What’s the one cause or concept we can all rally behind?

The answer, of course, would be our undying hatred of mosquitoes.

I mean, duh.

Mosquitoes are just the worst, and they have been for a long, long time. For an animal with a measly lifespan of not quite two months, it’s crazy to think about how much mayhem they’ve caused en masse. These ugly insects are responsible for countless epidemics throughout history and today, spreading diseases like yellow fever, Zika virus, malaria, dengue, West Nile virus, and more. Mosquito-borne diseases have even influenced the outcomes of major wars, relentlessly crippling infected armies and in some instances being used in biological warfare. Mosquitoes are still responsible for more than 1 million deaths each year, leading this article to label them the “world’s deadliest animal.”

To make matters worse, mosquitoes breed wherever there’s water, so they’re basically unavoidable. At home we used to dump rainwater out of whatever objects would collect it in our yard, but I don’t know why we bothered – there’s a pond right around the block from my house, so every summer inevitably brings with it a wave of those ugly dipterans. And thus a ton of my summertime memories are tinged with the scent of bug-spray.

Mosquitoes definitely outrank ticks and clutter cats as my least favorite arthropods of all time. Why, then, did I decide to write a post about them? Because I honestly believe that every living thing is here for a reason, and I’ve been curious for a long time as to what could possibly be the reason for these nasty dudes. One can’t deny the significance of their historical and modern impact on humanity, but are there any benefits to having them around? I did know previously that they’re a popular prey item of dragonflies, but I figured there had to be more than just that. I mean, dragonflies are super cool, but are they really worth mosquitoes?

Well, for one, mosquitoes do feed more than just dragonflies. As both larvae and adults, mosquitoes are popular prey items of fish, bats, spiders, birds, and other animals. In fact, eating mosquitoes is one attribute that shines a positive light on bats, frequently misunderstood animals that are much more important than they’re often given credit for. Bats eat substantial amounts of mosquitoes and other pesky insects nightly, and in some areas they pollinate economically valuable crops. Bats are also crucial pollinators for flowering plants that bloom at night rather than during the day, not to mention that their famous superpower (echolocation) helped inspire the creation of ultrasound and sonar technology. By siding with humans against mosquitoes, the often unappreciated bat draws positive attention to itself and fills its belly at the same time.

Some mosquitoes contribute to their ecosystems as pollinators as well, and mosquito larvae eat “microscopic organic matter,” which keeps the various bodies of water they inhabit a little bit cleaner. Nevertheless, this insect’s most important role is definitely that of being food for other animals. Aside from comprising a sizable but replaceable portion of the diets of the organisms listed above, a few animals including mosquitofish rely heavily on mosquitoes as the bulk of their sustenance and would likely go extinct without them.

People have been trying to eradicate mosquitoes forever, but insecticides and other measures targeted at mosquitoes often impact innocent and more important plants and animals in the process. That said, it’s nice to know that mosquitoes aren’t entirely pointless, or it’d be a bit more disheartening that we haven’t figured out how to get rid of them by now. And who knows – maybe years from now someone will discover some super crucial thing that only mosquitoes do, and we’ll realize they were important after all. Either way, messing with the environment in such an extreme manner as eradicating the entire Culicidae family is bound to have unforeseen consequences.

In conclusion, I still don’t like mosquitoes, but I can admit that they aren’t worthless. They’re ugly, annoying disease vectors, but for better or worse, they’re strung into a vast array of food webs around the globe as pollinators, detritivores, and quarry.

So the next time a horde of mosquitoes plagues your neighborhood, take solace in the fact that even if you’re miserable, the local bats are thriving.

2 Comments on “In Defense of Mosquitoes

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