Being honest, no one likes mosquitoes, and most people would be happy if they went extinct. They’re often considered the biggest nuisance pest due to their irritating feeding habits and ability to carry many diseases. Despite this, they play an important role in life – and if we exterminate them, it would upset many ecosystems. Nonetheless don’t you just hate them pestering you every time you sit outside, or one is noisily cruising round your bedroom just waiting for you to nod off?

Facts About Mosquitoes

Adult mosquitoes live for up to 4 weeks depending on the species, and it is only the females that bite people and animals to get the blood meal they need to produce eggs. There are over 3,500 species of mosquito on Earth and they are found on every continent except Antarctica

It’s not actually a bite

They pierce the skin using a special mouthpart (proboscis) to suck up blood. As the mosquito is feeding, it injects saliva into your skin, and your body reacts to the saliva, resulting in a bump and itching, with some people reacting more than others. It's long been known that mosquitoes rely on multiple clues to target humans - they can sense exhaled carbon dioxide from a distance of more than 9 metres, and then begin to sense human odour. The mosquito follows this odour and, when it gets very close, it starts to detect body heat. Once mosquitoes land on you, they actually can taste your skin with their legs and then look for a place to ‘bite’. Things like your blood type and how much lactic acid you have on your skin apparently play a big role, and in the past, popular wisdom suggested wearing perfume, and eating salty snacks or foods with potassium, such as bananas, increased your risk of mosquito bites.

But what would happen if they all disappeared?

Mosquitoes kill more people than any other species in the world through the diseases they carry, and half of the global population is at risk of contracting diseases from a simple mosquito bite. More than a million people die every year from malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever and other mosquito-borne diseases, with livestock and other animals getting infected, too. Wouldn’t it be safe to say that the world would be a better and safer place without mosquitoes to worry about? But what would happen if the most hated insect in the world was eradicated from the face of the Earth?

There are billions of them – that’s a lot of insects that could be another animal’s supper. I don’t know of any creature that only eats mosquitoes, but there are an awful lot of mosquitoes and they are easy to hunt, so many creatures eat them. Even though there are many types of biting flies, mosquitoes are by far the most common and widespread.

Frogs, dragonflies, ants, spiders, geckos, bats - and many others - all eat mosquitoes, and would go hungry if all the mosquitoes disappeared, with many having a lot less food. Imagine if all the rice in the world disappeared. Not many people eat only rice, and if rice disappeared tomorrow, a lot of people would have a lot less food. Fish populations could be impacted too, as many fish species rely on mosquito larvae as a food source, which would ultimately have ramifications for us.

Do they have their uses?

It’s true that mosquito larvae eat decaying leaves, microorganisms and organic debris, but they aren’t the only ones doing this dirty job. Other organisms process detritus, and mosquitoes definitely aren’t the most important players in that game.

Having them all disappear would seem a good idea, but whatever insect rises up to replace mosquitoes could prove equally, or more, undesirable from a public health viewpoint.

Some scientists predict that while some animals would go hungry, it wouldn't spell disaster. Most would adapt to other prey and life would go on - without mosquito-borne diseases.

But the collapse of critical ecosystems will threaten the wellbeing and livelihoods of everyone on the planet. So I guess we will just have to carry on swearing and swatting.


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan