Updated: Jul 3
Author: Jefferson Lin
Editors: Peggy Yang, Hwi-On Lee, and Jaylen Peng
Artist: Lilian Chen
Ever look around your room or house and see this thing fly around? You’d never know it was there until it had bitten you. Its bite, likely the most infuriating thing, grows a bump on your skin that becomes insufferably itchy as soon as you notice it. If you have ever experienced this frustrating phenomenon, you have encountered a mosquito. Studies have estimated that there are more than 100 trillion mosquitoes worldwide, and they are nothing but pests. With all these mosquitoes causing death and disease, why aren’t we trying to exterminate them?
Before we dive into the question of exterminating mosquitoes, let's look at a previous example of when we tried to eliminate an inconvenient species. During the late 1800s to early 1900s, wolves were removed from Yellowstone National Park, but after eliminating these wolves, the entire ecosystem in Yellowstone National Park changed for the worse. The coyote population flourished, as their main competition for prey had been eliminated; the elk population exponentially increased as a result of exterminating their main predators; the number of trees decreased drastically as the elks trampled over the land due to overpopulation; the number of beavers reduced due to the lack of trees to construct their dens. Ecologists later figured out that the wolves were a keystone species—a type of species that, when removed, will damage the ecosystem—of Yellowstone National Park.
Mosquitoes cause diseases such as the Zika virus, West Nile virus, Chikungunya virus, dengue, and malaria, all of which can weaken the immune system and cause death. So why not exterminate them? Are they like the wolves in Yellowstone? The answers to these questions vary.
Recall back to the previous section, where we discussed that keystone species are vital to their respective ecosystems through their ability to prevent the overpopulation of certain organisms and maintain a consistent growth rate for other organisms. In this case, because mosquitoes are so abundant, they are not crucial to a singular ecosystem, but rather the majority of them. Mosquitoes play two major roles depending on their sex. Female mosquitoes suck blood from other animals to develop their eggs. However, because they traverse many animals with their bites, the disease may stick to them and be transferred to humans. The male mosquitoes feed on plant nectar to obtain the sugar necessary for energy and survival. They play a vital role since they feed on nectar and pollinate plants, allowing them to form seeds and reproduce. Plants are crucial to animals and humans because they produce oxygen and supply resources necessary for millions of animals. In addition, without male mosquitoes, there would be less prey at the lower levels of the food chain, resulting in increased competition between predators, creating a drastic lack of energy transfer for the global ecosystem.
Now the next time you see a mosquito, you will understand why something that seemingly causes nothing but problems is crucial for the world's ecosystem. Because they supply pollen for plants and are also the food source of many insects, removing them would cause a similar situation to what happened at Yellowstone National Park. They are not just an essential species to a specific region but rather considered a keystone species in all the ecosystems on Earth.
“What Purpose Do Mosquitoes Serve? • The National Wildlife Federation Blog.” The National
Wildlife Federation Blog, 16 Aug. 2022, https://blog.nwf.org/2020/09/what-purpose-do-mosquitoes-serve/#:~:text=Believe%20it%20or%20not%2C%20mosquitoes,to%20form%20seeds%20and%20reproduce.
“A World without Mosquitoes? It's Not as Great an Idea as It May Seem.” Accelerator,
“Wolf Restoration.” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior,
“A Rewilding Triumph: Wolves Help to Reverse Yellowstone Degradation.” The Guardian, Guardian
News and Media, 25 Jan. 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jan/25/yellowstone-wolf-project-25th-anniversary.
Dueck, Kathryn. “How Many Mosquitoes Are in the World?” AZ Animals, 10 July 2022, https://a-z-