Monday, July 8, 2013

I hate mosquitos

I hate mosquitos, partly because they seem to love me, and any time I spend more than five or ten minutes outside, it seems I always end up with half a dozen itchy mosquito bites.  Tony recently bought an AWESOME bug zapper for our back yard, which does seem to cut down on the nasty critters trying to eat me alive.

So this morning, I was listening to the lovely folks on Radio from Hell discuss a local case of West Nile Virus, which of course is caused by being bitten by the aforementioned evil bugs, and I found myself wondering, what would happen if the little pests were completely eradicated from the planet?

I googled and came across this article Ecology: A world without mosquitoes which is subtitled "Eradicating any organism would have serious consequences for ecosystems — wouldn't it? Not when it comes to mosquitoes, finds Janet Fang"  That makes me happy.  So, the question is, why haven't we wiped them out yet?

One of the reasons appears to be that it's pretty hard to do safely.  One of the most effective weapons against mosquitos is the chemical DDT, famously excoriated in Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and which is now banned internationally under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.

Can mosquitos be eradicated? It's been done in targeted geographical areas in the past; for example, a focused effort of larvicide application in South America allowed workers to complete the Panama Canal without dying from the yellow fever and malaria which was previously rampant among the crew.

According to the Nature article mention above, there are areas of the world which would be more strongly impacted by destruction of the mosquitos and their larvae, but in many cases other insects would fill the gap rather quickly and be just as effective without the various diseases mosquitos spread.  The conclusion seems to be that eradicating mosquitos would only benefit people.  However, the article closes with one caveat. "'If we eradicated them tomorrow, the ecosystems where they are active will hiccup and then get on with life. Something better or worse would take over.'" (Fang, 2010; emphasis mine)

There's the real reason to leave the mosquitos alone in my mind.  They may be keeping away something even worse!


No comments: