To Kill or Not to Kill


I have been in Utila for three weeks now and there has been a steep increase of the amount of mosquitos in the last week and a half. Unfortunately this has led us to being attacked by swarms of mosquitos when we have been outside. I have started wearing bug spray all day and night and I am still am covered in hundreds of little (sometimes not so little) itchy red bumps. The worst part is this is just the beginning, as we move into the rainy season it is clear that the mosquitos will be going nowhere any time soon. Many wishes for all the mosquitos to die have been expressed by all so I decided to do a little research into what is being done to control or eradicate mosquitoes and people’s views about the impact it will have.

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There are 3,500 named species of mosquitos but only a couple hundred or so bite or bother humans and of those couple hundred only 30 or so species are the real problem. These mosquitos can carry many viruses and diseases that have a heavy impact on humans including malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever, West Nile virus, and chikunguya. The ease and the rate at which the mosquitos can transmit these diseases among people causes millions of deaths a year and heavy medical and financial strain on countries. Causing a species wide extinction, specicide, is being researched and would save many lives and allow developing countries to use their money on getting food and clean water to more people. The many benefits to having mosquitos eradicated are easy to see and when you are fighting a swarm of mosquitos, specicide of them seems like it would be the best thing to ever happen on the planet. However, some scientists are not for the total eradication of mosquitos.

Life in the Artic could be heavily impacted by specicide of mosquitos, some scientists estimate that up to 50% of migratory birds in the tundra would die out without mosquitos. Also caribou herd paths are influenced by swarms of mosquitos and without them the paths and behavior of the caribou could change and cause severe impacts on life in the tundra. There are also animals that specialize in mosquitoes such as the mosquitofish and in the absence of their food source, will also go extinct which could impact the food chain. Opposing these scientist are ones arguing that mosquitos specicide will have no impact on the food chain. It is argued that we have overestimated the amount of mosquitos that animals eat and an examination of their stomach contents has proved this point. They also believe that animals that do target mosquitos as prey will switch to other insects. Aside from animals, plants would be impacted for many of them would loose their pollinators but none of those plants are ones that humans depend on so these losses are mainly being overlooked. One scientist is fighting for not the total extinction of mosquitos but a temporary disappearance of them in order for diseases such as malaria to disappear and then to reintroduce mosquitos. What the impact will be is unknown but some scientists fear a major disruption of the food chain and some think that there will be just a small hiccup and then either some other species will fill the niche or nature will figure it out.

Even with all the possible negative impacts of the specicide of mosquitos, the majority of people are in favor for it because the benefits from it are so great for the human population. There are many scientist that are working on how to cause such an extinction, while some are focusing on all mosquitos there are many that are focused on just getting rid of the 30 or so mosquitos that cause so many problems for the human population. Currently there are some pesticides that are being used to control mosquitos and they are specific to different life stages of the mosquito. Larvicides target the larvae and kill the mosquito before it matures into an adult. These larvicides are mainly an oily substance that is applied directly to the water and disperses forming a thin layer of oil on the surface of the water. This causes the larvae and pupae to drown because they cannot penetrate the oily layer. It also deters adults from laying eggs in that body of water. Adulticides target the adults and are sprayed from planes and trucks causing the fine aerosol droplets to cover a large area and kill the mosquitos on contact. Personal mosquito control includes the use of bug spray and it is also recommended that you get rid of any standing water around, to change the water in birdbaths regularly, and to properly maintain pools. No matter what your view is on this issue it seems inevitable that sometime in the future mosquitos will no longer be a bother and so while we wait for them to figure out a method to cause the specicide, bring on the bug spray and the anti-itch cooling gel.

 

Author: Kristina Tietjen, October 2015