Why we should appreciate mosquitoes

Raise your hand if you love mosquitoes. Just as I thought – no hands. Not surprised. Biting insects are not easy to love, with the blood-sucking and all. But, as hard as it may be to believe, they do belong in our world and have value, if not to us directly, to the other organisms with whom they interact. I know that I will not convince many of you…or even a few…but here is my attempt to speak for mosquitoes.

When not seeking a blood meal from a warm-blooded animal, females frequent flowers that sustain them. For many species, nectar can produce eggs, although they are fewer and smaller. The proteins in blood are superior building blocks for mosquito eggs–the basis of evolution of blood-sucking insects, ticks, and mites.

Male mosquitoes feed solely on nectar, if they feed at all, living far shorter lives than their mates. In this way, both sexes are important pollinators. As they fly about feeding on plants or seeking a blood meal, they become prey for other insects, spiders, birds, and bats, contributing to the local food web. Thankfully, most are eaten–if you can believe that!

Larvae are aquatic, often found in isolated puddles or small bodies of water that are devoid of oxygen, where few predators can live. Most vertebrate predators, like fish, cannot survive in these places. An exception is the common Mosquito Fish, that is adapted to these same conditions and has been used to help control mosquito larvae. In better-quality bodies of water, aquatic insect predators, salamanders, and other small fish feed on them.

So why are there so many mosquitoes buzzing in our ears? As a group, they are largely what are called pioneer species, that take advantage of temporary abundance, mostly associated with water where adults lay many eggs. Along the way, other members of the food web, including humans, benefit from this abundance, like plants that produce the fruit we enjoy.

Indeed, mosquitoes pose significant health hazards in much of our world, transmitting diseases and parasites as they feed from one mammal to another, including humans. Thankfully, in this country at least, we have learned to manage mosquitoes, although often with chemical means that are not always specific to mosquitoes. And yet, there are things we can do to minimize their negative impacts, at a minimum, where we live.

So, the next time you find a water-filled container in your yard, with mosquito larvae, you will hopefully understand our role in managing them – create no habitat where they can live! Hopefully, you will also have a better appreciation for those all too common spider webs 😊

Hope to see you in our great outdoors!

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Written by Mark W. LaSalle, Ph.D.

Mark is a naturalist and wetland ecologist, providing expertise on wetlands, water quality and environmental impacts of humans. He has also developed and conducted a number of environmental education programs and workshops for youth, teachers, realtors, and the general public on a variety of subjects including wetlands, natural history, and environmental landscaping. Mark is a graduate of the University of Southwestern Louisiana (B.S. and M.S. degrees) and Mississippi State University (Ph.D.). Mark is the recipient of the Chevron Conservation Award, the Mississippi Wildlife Federation Conservation Educator Award, the Gulf Guardian Award, and the Boy Scouts of America Silver Beaver Award.

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