Mosquitos

mosquitoIt’s mosquito season! Unfortunately, it’s that time of year again and if you’ve gone outside in the past few days you’ve probably been attacked by these awful pests. Last week, my mom was telling me about talk of eradication of mosquitoes. This got me thinking about the effects this could have on the environment and the human population. Could eradicating an entire group of insects really be possible and what benefits and damage could come from it?

Of course there’s the obvious benefit, no more pesky mosquitoes biting us when we go outside. I’m sure everyone would enjoy that! Mosquitoes are also a vector of many deadly diseases, such as malaria and West Nile Virus. The eradication of these insects would drastically decrease the number of people who get infected with these deadly diseases. It would also ultimately increase the size and general health of the population.

However, extermination of mosquitoes would also cause problems in the environment that you might not realize. Many animals use mosquitoes as a food source, especially mosquitofish. These fish are so specialized to eat mosquito larvae that they are often stocked in rice fields and swimming pools as pest control. The loss of their primary prey could drive this fish to extinction which could have detrimental effects all along the food chain. Mosquitofish aren’t the only animals that prey on mosquitoes. Dragonflies, damselflies, frogs, lizards, salamanders, insects, spiders, insectivorous birds, and bats all consume mosquitoes as part of their diet.

Mosquitoes also play a role in plant growth. When insects drown in the water, other insects such as midges eat the carcasses and mosquito larvae eat the waste products. This makes nutrients such as nitrogen available for plant growth. There are other organisms that do this as well, but there are some bodies of water in which only midges and mosquitoes can exist. If mosquitoes were eradicated, the plants in these bodies of water would also disappear.

Of the 3,500 species of mosquitoes only a couple hundred harm humans. Of these, only the females draw blood, which provides proteins necessary to lay eggs. The majority of mosquitoes depend on nectar for energy. So, thousands of plant species would lose a group of pollinators if mosquitoes were wiped out. This could affect plant growth, which could affect the amount of oxygen produced by these plants.

Eradication of mosquitoes may not prove as easy as some may think. Many chemicals that exterminate these insects, such as DDT, have been banned due to the harmful effects they have on the environment. New microbicides that have been tested have shown a decrease in House Martin reproduction. Currently, there just isn’t a feasible way to eradicate mosquitoes on a large scale.

Mosquitoes do benefit the environment, but some scientists believe that other organisms would quickly fill the niche left open if mosquitoes were eradicated. Mosquito eradication also poses an ethical question. Do we have the right to eradicate an organism that’s been here for tens of millions of years?

Andrea Sanchez is a summer intern from Texas A&M University at the Gulf Coast Bird ObservatoryAndrea

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