What Good Are Mosquitoes?

The Important Roles Mosquitoes Play in Our World

Mosquito larvae are nutrient-rich snacks for hungry fish and other aquatic wildlife.
Mosquito larvae are nutrient-rich snacks for hungry fish and other aquatic wildlife. Clouds Hill Imaging Ltd. / Getty Images

There is not much love lost between people and mosquitoes. If insects can be credited with evil intent, mosquitoes seem determined to wipe the human race out. As carriers of deadly diseases, mosquitoes are the deadliest insect on Earth. Each year, millions of people die from malaria, dengue fever, and yellow fever after being bitten by a disease-carrying, blood-sucking mosquito. Mosquitoes also carry diseases that pose serious threats to livestock and pets.

So at the very least, these bloodthirsty insects are major annoyances, biting humans with a persistence that can be maddening. Knowing this, is there an intrinsic value to keeping them around? Or, if we can, should we just eradicate them all off the face of the earth?

The answer is mosquitoes do have value. Is that value worth it? Scientists are divided. 

The Long History of Mosquitoes on Earth

Mosquitoes populated this planet long before man; the oldest mosquito fossils date back some 200 million years to the Cretaceous period. 

Over 3,500 species of mosquitoes have already been described from various parts of the world, of which only a couple of hundred species bite or bother humans. In fact, only the female mosquitoes bite humans. Males lack the parts to penetrate human skin. 

Benefits of the Mosquito

Many scientists agree that mosquitoes are more a hassle than they have value. The mere fact that they are the reason for millions of human deaths a year is reason enough to wipe them off the planet.

However, mosquitoes serve important functions in numerous ecosystems, serving as food for many species, helping filter detritus for plant life to thrive, pollinating flowers and even affecting the herding paths of caribou in the tundra. Lastly, scientists are looking at the mosquito for potential medical treatments.

Mosquitoes as Food

Mosquito larvae are aquatic insects, and as such, play an important role in the aquatic food chain.

According to Dr. Gilbert Waldbauer in "The Handy Bug Answer Book," Mosquito larvae are filter feeders that strain tiny organic particles such as unicellular algae from the water and convert them to the tissues of their own bodies, which are, in turn, eaten by fish. Mosquito larvae are, in essence, nutrient-packed snacks for fish and other aquatic animals.

In addition, while species of mosquitoes eat the carcasses of insects that drown in the water, the mosquito larvae feed on the waste products, making nutrients such as nitrogen available for the plant community to thrive. In this case, if those mosquitoes were eliminated it might affect plant growth in those areas.

A mosquito's role on the bottom of the food chain does not end at the larval stage. As adults, mosquitoes serve as equally nutritious meals for birds, bats and spiders.

Mosquitoes seem to represent a considerable biomass of food for wildlife on the lower rungs of the food chain. Mosquito extinction, if it is achievable, could have an adverse effect on the ecosystem. Although, many scientists suggest that the ecosystem could eventually rebound and another species could take its place in the system.

Mosquitoes as Pollinators

Only the females of some mosquito species need a meal of blood to get the proteins necessary to lay eggs. For the most part, male and female adult mosquitoes depend on nectar for energy. While retrieving nectar, mosquitoes pollinate plants to help to ensure different types of plant life thrive. When mosquitoes pollinate certain plants, especially the aquatic ones that they spend much of their lives around, they help perpetuate these plants. These plants provide cover and shelter for other animals and organisms.

Increased plant life is also helpful as plants engage in the necessary process of photosynthesis, ensuring there is enough oxygen.

Mosquitoes as Medicine

Although the mosquito has been a known vector for spreading disease all over the world, there is some hope that mosquito saliva may have some potential use for the treatment of the No.

1 killer of humans all over the world: cardiovascular disease.

The composition of mosquito saliva is relatively simple, as it usually contains fewer than 20 dominant proteins.  Despite the great strides in knowledge of these molecules and their role in blood feeding achieved recently, scientists still cannot ascribe functions to more than half of the molecules found in the saliva. One promising application is the development of anti-clotting drugs, such as clotting inhibitors and capillary dilators, that could be useful for cardiovascular disease.

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Hadley, Debbie. "What Good Are Mosquitoes?" ThoughtCo, Jul. 6, 2017, thoughtco.com/what-good-are-mosquitoes-1968303. Hadley, Debbie. (2017, July 6). What Good Are Mosquitoes? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-good-are-mosquitoes-1968303 Hadley, Debbie. "What Good Are Mosquitoes?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-good-are-mosquitoes-1968303 (accessed December 18, 2017).