Montana Public Radio

Bug Bytes: Mosquitoes

Feb 5, 2019

Imagine enjoying beautiful summer evenings without the nuisance of mosquitoes.

Humans and other animals know mosquitoes as annoying, buzzing bloodsuckers. Well, at least female mosquitoes are. Only female mosquitoes suck blood, which they need to provision their eggs with essential amino acids.

But the question is up for debate. Would our world be better off without them?

The oldest mosquito fossils date back about 200 million years, to the Cretaceous period. For something that’s been around that long, they must serve some critical function.

On the one hand, each year hundreds of thousands of people die from malaria, dengue fever and yellow fever transmitted by disease-carrying mosquitoes. Most recently, we’ve heard a lot about the Zika virus, which harms fetuses.

On the other hand:

  • Mosquitoes are an important part of the food chain for many species of fish, insects, arachnids, amphibians, reptiles and birds.
  • They act as important pollinators for certain plants.
  • And scientists are even studying the anti-blood clotting properties of mosquito saliva for potential medical treatments.

Many scientists say that if we got rid of mosquitoes, something better or worse would fill the important roles they play. Others warn against the impact that taking them out of the food chain would trigger, not to mention the ecological damage that would be caused by mass eradication efforts.

No matter which camp you fall into, the fact is that mosquitoes will remain part of our world and the bane of our outdoor pursuits. So you might as well learn to live with them. Except for that one (whap), and that one (whap), and that one (whap).

BugBytes is made possible by the Missoula Butterfly House and Insectarium, and Montana Public Radio. This show is also supported by funding from the Greater Montana Foundation: Encouraging communication on issues, trends and values of importance to Montanans.