Experts debate cost of being mosquito-free

April showers bring May flowers. May flowers bring mosquitoes? That’s not how the old adage goes, but it definitely feels like it this year. Local reports around Neogen’s headquarters in Michigan have stated that the weather conditions are great conditions for mosquito breeding grounds, meaning it might be a busy, buggy season.

In a perfect world, we’d be mosquito-free, happily enjoying the outdoors without coming inside looking like we’ve contracted chicken pox 2.0. That got us thinking: What would a mosquito-free world look like?

Plant Life

Plants benefit from two types of mosquitoes: larvae and male adult mosquitoes. (It is the females that are the annoying kind: biting mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians to feed on their blood.)

The removal of the larvae from the ecosystem may result in stunted plant growth. As larvae eat, they make nutrients, such as nitrogen, available for plants. When plants don’t get the nitrogen they need, their growth can be affected. Not to mention that it could also influence oxygen levels provided by the plants, a crucial element for humans and other beings.

Adults assist plants in other ways: pollination. Although, according to some researchers, this process isn’t crucial for the plant world.

But let’s be honest: If you’re a chocolate lover, you should love the mosquito. The insect aids in the pollination of the cacao plant. No pollination = no chocolate.

Eating & Breeding Patterns

If you venture to the arctic tundra, for several weeks out of the year, mosquitoes can form thick clouds. This region spreads from northern Canada to Russia — but is also the exception to mosquito behavior, not the rule. Some scientists believe that the extinction or removal of the insect could affect animal eating patterns in the area.

Migratory birds in the area could drop by 50%, Bruce Harrison, an entomologist from the North California Department of Environment and Natural Resources believes. Their diet consists largely of mosquitoes, and without them, birds may vanish. Other scientists disagree, saying nature would adapt.

Not so fast, other studies say. A change in mosquito levels has been shown to cause a significant different or drop in some bird species reproduction due to the loss of a food source.

Fish consume the insect as well. The mosquitofish (yes, that is its real name) resides in rice fields and swimming pools as a hunter extraordinaire. If mosquitoes are gone — so is that fish. And potentially even other insects, spiders, salamanders, lizards and frogs as well that also depend on the mosquito for their diet.

Trampled Environment

But the same can’t necessarily be said of the environment in the tundra. According to an article from nature, mosquitoes can consume up to 300 milliliters of blood a day from each animal in a caribou herd. So why not just adjust the herds so they face the wind, eliminating the threat of mosquitoes?

Even a small change such as this could result in the caribou “trampling the ground, eating lichens, transporting nutrients, feeding wolves and generally altering the ecology.”

All Things Considered

So, we should keep the mosquito, if it’s so beneficial?

Nope.  “Life would continue as before — or even better [without mosquitoes],” the nature article continues. Any environmental void left behind from the mosquito would hypothetically be filled quickly.

Mosquito-free-utopia, here we come!

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