Night of the Bloodsuckers (Part 2)

Night of the Bloodsuckers (Part 1) prompted several conversations, and people had lots of suggestions about how to control or repel mosquitoes. The repellent suggestions included lemongrass, citronella, and garlic oil spray (a product not available in Australia as far as I know). In addition to emptying pot trays, bird baths etc regularly to stop mosquitoes breeding, one correspondent reminded us not to forget emptying bromeliads. One ingenious person suggested deliberately placing buckets of water around the garden to encourage mosquitoes to lay their eggs in them, and then emptying them out. That’s using buckets as a trap! Thanks for all your suggestions.

dead mosquitoSplat! Another one bites the dust. Mosquitoes are just pests aren’t they? Whether we like it or not mosquitoes have been a part of the web of life for about 100 million years. Mosquitoes are part of the diet of many species of small fish, frogs, dragonflies and damselflies, and insectivorous birds and bats. Debate has been raging for years about what would happen in various ecosystems if mosquitoes were removed. A sample of these discussions can be found here. It’s a few years old now but you’ll get the gist.

Did you know that mosquitoes are pollinators? They visit flowers for nectar (both sexes need it for energy) and in the process pick up a bit of pollen and take it to the next plant they visit. However, most plants are not dependent on mosquitoes for pollination as many other insects may also visit the same flowers. There is one group of plants which are much more dependent on mosquitoes for pollination – the Arctic bog orchids. In some parts of the Arctic mosquitoes are the dominant insect, so it follows that the orchids are more likely to be pollinated by them than other insects.

MidgeWhen is a mosquito not a mosquito? When it’s a midge (see above). Non-biting midges of the family Chironomidae are similar in appearance to mosquitoes but are completely harmless. Midges swarm above trees and other tall objects on warm evenings and may enter houses if they are not screened properly. It’s when they land that you can tell them apart from mosquitoes. When resting non-biting midges raise their front legs, while mosquitoes raise their hind legs. Crane flies (family Tipulidae) can look like a bit like giant mosquitoes, but these too are completely harmless (below).

Crane flyPersonally speaking I don’t like being bitten by mosquitoes but I don’t want to see them wiped off the planet either. To me they are a group of insects doing what they have evolved to do, and their spread of diseases is a (very) nasty but inadvertent side effect. Female mosquitoes suck blood to gain protein for egg development, not to spread diseases among mammals. I look forward to further comments.

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3 Replies to “Night of the Bloodsuckers (Part 2)”

  1. I’ve asked people this question more than once: “What if you could just snap your fingers and in a flash, every single mosquito on the face of the earth would be die? Would you do it?”
    Most people don’t hesitate, and say “yes, you bet I would!”
    But then, who would pollinate the rare arctic orchids? What would feed the tiny fish?
    I have mixed feeling about this myself. I understand the ecology of it all, but having lived in both Alaska and northern Minnesota, I know mosquitoes, only too well….clouds of them, millions, billions of them. Perhaps Dennis Crawford should pose this same question, here and maybe on linked in, too….bet it might well kick off some lively debate.

  2. Great post, my children aged 5 and 7 were just asking this week what Mosquitos did for the environment and I couldn’t answer, totally forgotten that others might eat them! Thanks.