Unless you live in freezing cold regions, mosquitoes are impossible to get away from. They are carriers of some of the most deadly diseases like malaria, zika, and dengue, with close to 5% of humans dying each year from mosquito-borne diseases. So, it is only natural to wonder why we can’t just eradicate them and save lives.
There are over 3,500 species of mosquitoes in the world, and not all mosquitoes share the blame for human deaths. Only the females of 6% of these species, including Aedes aegypti, Aedes albopictus, and Anopheles gambiae, feed on human blood.
The rest of the species, both male and female, feed on plant juices and nectar, or the honeydew from ants and aphids. Many of these species are also underappreciated benefactors of Earth’s ecosystem. In fact, some types of orchids, and plants from sunflower and rose families, depend on mosquitoes for pollination, and these mosquitoes are considered generalist pollinators due their small size.
That is not all. All the mosquito populations that die or are excreted after being eaten by other creatures like birds, bats, frogs and many other insects, break down into valuable nutrients necessary for the survival of our planet’s plant life. In fact in Alaska alone, mosquitoes contribute to over 96 million pounds of biomass, which is in no way negligible.
Even if we put aside whatever beneficial acts mosquitoes do perform for the ecosystem, is it really ethical to get rid of an entire family of species? There are those that would argue that the benefits for humans far outweigh the benefits to the environment, and that despite the extinction of several species so far, the world still seems to be carrying on alright.
But on the other hand, there are also those who argue saying who are we to play God and decide which species should be eradicated and which shouldn’t? After all, we have, with or without our knowledge, despite our efforts or through our negligence, have already caused many species to go extinct. Is repeating this the right step towards our future?
One solution to this dilemma is to target only the specific species that carry diseases. RIDL, or Release of Insects carrying Dominant Lethals, is one such technique in which genetically modified male mosquitoes of specific species are released in affected areas. The lethal gene these mosquitoes carry causes the resulting offspring to die at the larva stage.
However, though field experiments were conducted at various sites in Brazil between 2013 and 2016, scientists are not in agreement on whether it was a success or not. And this brings us back to square-one in our efforts to solve the problem without hurting the species that are an underrated and beneficial part of our ecosystem.
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