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Deadliest Human Hunters

Mosquitoes: The Deadliest Hunters of Human Beings

     It has been one of the most aggravating sounds on earth for more than 100 million years—the humming buzz of a mosquito.

     She gently lands on your ankle and inserts two serrated cutting blades and saws into your skin, while two other retractors open a passage for the proboscis. With this elongated mouth organ she sucks your blood, while a sixth needle pumps in saliva that contains an anticoagulant that prevents that blood from clotting. This shortens her feeding time, lessening the likelihood that you splat her across your ankle.

     The female mosquito needs your blood to grow her eggs. Please don’t feel singled out. She bites everyone. There is no truth to the myth that mosquitoes prefer women over men or blondes and redheads over those with darker hair. She does, however, play favourites. Stinky feet emit a bacterium that woos famished females, as do perfumes. As a parting gift, she leaves behind an itchy bump (an allergic reaction to her saliva) and potentially something far worse: infection with one of several deadly diseases, including malaria, Zika, West Nile, dengue and yellow fever.

     Mosquitoes are our top predator, the deadliest hunter of human beings on the planet. A swarming army of 100 trillion or more mosquitoes patrols nearly every inch of our globe, killing about 700,000 people annually. Researchers suggest that mosquitoes may have killed nearly half of the 108 billion humans who have ever lived across our relatively brief 300,000-year existence.

     Flying solo, the mosquito does not directly harm anyone. It is the diseases she transmits that cause so many deaths. Yet without her, these pathogens could not be directed to humans. Without her, history would be completely unrecognizable.

     The mosquito and her diseases have accompanied traders, travellers, soldiers and settlers (and their captive African slaves) around the world and have been far more lethal than any manufactured weapons or inventions.

     Malarious mosquitoes patrolling the Pontine Marshes facilitated both the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. Initially shielding the Eternal City from the Visigoths, Huns and Vandals, they eventually pointed their proboscises inward on Rome itself. Mosquitoes defended the Holy Land during the Crusades by killing off armies of cross-adorned Christian soldiers. By infecting European soldiers with Malaria and yellow fever, they reinforced numerous successful rebellions in the Americas during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, including the British surrender at Yorktown during the American Revolution.

     Mosquitoes also played a role in steering slave ships from Africa across the Atlantic, because plantation owners in the Americas believed that Africans withstood the onslaught of mosquito-borne-disease better than indigenous slaves or European servants. During the American Civil War, Confederate forces suffered from shortages of the antimalarial drug quinine, and the mosquito eventually helped hammer the final nail in the coffin of the institution of slavery. But these examples only scratch the surface of her historical impact.

     Malaria, a parasitic disease, is the unsurpassed scourge of humankind. Even today more than 200 million people contact malaria each year.

     Malaria often produces a synchronized and cyclical pattern of symptoms: a cold stage of chills and shakes, followed by a hot stage marked by fevers, headaches and vomiting, and finally a sweating stage. After a period of remission, this progression repeats itself. For many, especially children under 5, malaria triggers organ failure, coma and death.

     Mosquitoes also transmit a multitude of viruses: dengue, West Nile, Zika and various others that specifically attack your brain (encephalitides). While debilitating, these diseases are generally not prolific killers. Yellow fever, however, is the viral exception. It can produce fever-induced delirium, liver damage and bleeding from the mouth, nose and eyes, and coma. Internal corrosion induces vomit of blood, the colour of coffee grounds, giving rise to the Spanish name for Yellow Fever, vomito negro (black vomit), which is sometimes followed by death.

     Today, roughly 4 billion people are at risk from mosquito-borne diseases. As our ancestors could tell us, our battle with the mosquito has always been a matter of life and death, and it’s beginning to look as though this confrontation is coming to a head.

     We now have Crispr—the gene-editing technology that could change our planet in a hurry. Unveiled in 2012, Crispr snips out a section of DNA sequencing from a gene and replaces it with another one, permanently altering a genome. This innovation has been called the extinction machine because it allows us to wipe out any undesirable species. Crispr has been used to design mosquitoes that produce infertile offspring. If these mosquitoes were released into the wild, the species could become extinct. Humanity would never again have to fear the bite of a mosquito.

     And yet, it would mean that science fiction would become reality. And that begs the question; do we want to live in the real world, in nature or a fabricated world like Disneyland?

     As the expression says “Be careful what you wish for.” If we eradicate disease-carrying mosquitoes, would other mosquito species or insects simply fill the ecological void? What effect would eliminating mosquitoes (or any other animal) have on Mother Nature’s biological equilibrium?

     But maybe now, as in the past, we are underestimating the mosquito. She evolved to endure global showers of the eradication chemical DDT and may genetically outflank Crips as well. History has shown the mosquito to be a dogged survivor. She has ruled the planet for millions of years and has killed with unremitting potency throughout her unrivaled reign of terror. She has steered the course of history, leaving her indelible mark on the modern world order.

     But, if you believe in the earth and its creation, you realize that there is an order that so far is beyond our understanding. Right now the earth is in the throes of a terrible climate change caused primarily by an overpopulated planet. All those human beings out there using all of our devices and destroying the planet to make them.  Imagine how many people would be living on our planet today if mosquitoes had not killed off 54 billion of us. Global climate change may have killed us all off a long time ago.

     Every creature on this earth has a purpose. Mosquitoes have kept our population in check as well as other diseases and world wars. About six to ten per cent of humans are gay and this may also be nature’s way of keeping us from overpopulating the globe.

     Once we start using the tools to disrupt the patterns of nature, we will eventually go down a slippery slope that will certainly end human existence on this planet. [print_link]