What's the point of mosquitoes?

16 June 2015

Question

With many animals it is obvious the value they add to the ecosystem, but I'm struggling to find value in ticks and mosquitoes. What value do they have besides ruining the enjoyment of my porch in the evening?

Answer

We put Sean's question to zoologist Max Gray:

Max - So, the problem here is the difference between value to him as an individual versus value to an ecosystem. We don't get a lot of benefit ourselves from mosquitoes but they feed into the food chain much like anything else would to an ecosystem. There's lots of birds and lots of fish, particularly freshwater fish, that eat the larvae of the mosquitoes and then birds will eat the adults more. So, they do feed into our ecosystem in the same way that almost any other small insect would, but we derive no benefit from them but then again, we don't derive much from wasps either, at least not the ones that you see: the yellow and black wasps.

Chris - It's an arrogant belief that we're the important ones, isn't it? At the end of the day, everything here on Earth is exploiting some kind of niche in the environment where it's got its slice of energy and it's trying to defend it and hold on to it and exploit it.

Max - Yeah, exactly. All you need for the mosquitoes to exist is for a niche within that ecosystem to exist and they'll fill it. They'll adapt to fit that need and we don't need to need them so much. The same thing is true with all the diseases. They exist because there's the space for them to exist, not because they're beneficial.

Chris - Is the female ones that are the hungry biting ones, the mosquitoes at least?

Max - Yes, exactly. Females will actually draw blood from humans. The males essentially fly around, breed and die.

Chris - So, what do the males eat then? If the females go for blood, what do the males eat?

Max - So, the males, as far as I'm aware, only really eat as larvae. So, when they're small larvae which is kind of the tiny little thing that swims around in the water usually, stagnant water. and then it will pupate and emerge as an adult, fly around, breed with the females and then die.

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