Is the mosquito a necessary evil?

Scientists say the mosquito could be eliminated.

There are 3,500 species of mosquito on the planet, but only a few hundred actually bite humans. Although they serve important functions in the ecosystem, scientists believe that completely eradicating the entire species of mosquitoes would not significantly affect the world. Other species would quickly fill the role that these irritating insects play within the ecosystem.

While eliminating mosquitoes might seem like a selfish act of avoiding a minor inconvenience, getting rid of the bloodsuckers could help save 247 million people per year from malaria infection, as well as victims of the West Nile virus, yellow fever and other arthropod-borne diseases. In fact, the human death toll is more than 700,000 per year from mosquito-borne diseases — more deaths than are caused by any other organism, including humans.

In the last fifty years, the amount of people affected by flooding has more than doubled. Stagnant water from floods creates a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Scientists think there is a correlation between the rise of malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases, and rising global temperature. As more and more people are affected by floods and warmer temperatures, finding a way to deal with mosquitoes takes on added urgency.

So what really happens when you are bitten by a mosquito?

The mosquito injects you with its saliva and finds a small blood vessel to drain. The saliva contains an anesthetic to prevent you from feeling the bite, and chemicals which dilate the vessel, increasing blood flow, and keeping the blood from clotting. There’s also room in the saliva for parasites and viruses that the mosquito picked up from biting other animals, like birds, giving the insects direct entry into our bloodstream, where it’s harder for our immune system to find the invader.

All humans are allergic to mosquito saliva, so after a mosquito bites, our bodies release chemicals called histamines which cause swelling, redness, and itchiness at the site of the bite.

Weirdly, mosquitos also pee on your skin when they’re finished sucking your blood. They need to get rid of all the extra fluids and salts they have ingested; otherwise, they get too heavy to fly away. While this sounds disgusting, it actually gives us an easier method of killing them.

Treating mosquitos with chemicals that prevent them from urinating means they can’t get rid of excess fluids and salts so they die. Scientists are working on developing methods to block the urination process in mosquitoes without harming humans.

In the meantime, we just have to deal with them biting us, sucking our blood, spitting in us, finishing off by peeing on us and potentially infecting us with deadly diseases.

Madalon Burnett is Mount Allison University’s Health Intern.

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