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What Good are Mosquitoes?

July 8, 2011 | by Bruce Auchly

Townsends big-eared bat, one of 15 species
found in Montana, eats mosquitoes.
Photo by Kristi DuBois/FWP.

Which of the following does not belong in this group: leeches, mosquitoes, the profession you dislike the most (e.g. politicians, professional athletes, lawyers)?

Many anglers, especially those who chase walleyes, would argue in favor of leeches. And no matter the most hated professional, that person probably receives a mother’s love.

That leaves mosquitoes.

This year, with all the water around, looks to be a banner year for the tiny blood suckers. As we await the incoming tide, it seems appropriate to ask: Do mosquitoes serve a purpose? What’s their point?

From the human point of view creatures need a “purpose.” If they don’t have one, our thinking goes, they are useless, they don’t belong. That’s displaced logic because creatures big and small don’t need a purpose that serves us.

The easy answer to a mosquito’s purpose is to survive and reproduce, the same as everything else on this earth. The female mosquito evolved at some point in the distant past to take advantage of animal blood, a rich nutrient source, that contains proteins and iron useful in developing eggs. It must have been an unfilled niche.

However, from our perspective it is hard to see any good coming from an insect that spreads deadly diseases like malaria, yellow fever and West Nile virus. And disease vectors aside, they sure can ruin a nice picnic or summer evening on the porch.

Mosquitoes are part of this planet’s complex web of life. That’s probably the place to start looking for their reason for being.

Mosquitoes are in the fly family. Many birds, especially smaller ones and shorebirds, feed upon these flying insects. In fact, one federal study stated there is no group of birds that makes a habit of avoiding flies and mosquitoes.

In the far north, where mosquitoes are legend, shorebirds – think sandpipers, killdeer and plovers – and small songbirds like yellow-rumped warblers and white-crowned sparrows regularly eat and feed mosquitoes to their young.

Insects, amphibians, fish and mammals will also find a meal here.

Dragonflies eat mosquitoes along with lots of other insects. Frogs and some fish find them tasty, too. Though it must take a lot of mosquitoes to fill a stomach, even a small tummy.

Bats can be especially deadly on mosquitoes as they both fly about at dusk after most bird species have gone to roost. In one night a bat can eat up to 4,000 mosquitoes. Add up the thousands of bats belonging to the 15 species occurring in Montana, and that’s a mess of mosquito tartare.

Still, it’s not enough. So we spray on lotions, plug in electric bug zappers and burn insect repelling sticks. And really, it’s all for naught.

Perhaps the best idea is to change our viewpoint that everything is on this earth to serve us. Realize that maybe mosquitoes really do belong.

Yeah. Try that. In between the slapping and cursing, of course.