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New Laser System Targets Mosquitoes 354

An anonymous reader writes "In the Cold War the so-called 'Star Wars defense system' proposed using lasers to destroy incoming Soviet missiles. In a 2007 brainstorming session aimed at combating malaria, Dr. Lowell Wood, the architect of that system, proposed modifying his original idea to kill mosquitoes. The cover of today's Wall Street Journal contains an article that highlights this initiative as well as a few others, like using a giant flashlight to disrupt mosquitoes' vision and using the insects to vaccinate, in the war against malaria. The system is intelligent enough to avoid noncombatants like humans and butterflies and can even tell the difference between females, the blood-drinkers, and males. My favorite quote: 'We'd be delighted if we destabilize the human-mosquito balance of power.'"


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New Laser System Targets Mosquitoes

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  • First post? (Score:4, Funny)

    by mrwolf007 ( 1116997 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @02:39PM (#27214347)
    Everyone else got hit by lasers?
    • by VernonNemitz ( 581327 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @03:07PM (#27214821) Journal
    • by thrillseeker ( 518224 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @03:12PM (#27214903)
      Caution ... do not look into mosquito killing device with remaining eye.
  • by Millennium ( 2451 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @02:40PM (#27214361)

    ...but where are you supposed to keep the sharks?

  • And then? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kell Bengal ( 711123 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @02:41PM (#27214369)
    I'm a little concerned by this. Suppose you disrupt the vision of mosquitoes. If it turns out to have permanent effects on the mosquitoes, they'll be easy prey for predators. Fewer mosquitoes... but then perhaps fewer predators, or more pressure on other potential prey. Suddenly other species go unchecked or apex predators have less food because that ecological niche filled by mosquitoes is empty. Am I the only one who thinks that humans need to stop fucking around the with the order of things and deal with it? Finding a cure for malaria (in our own bodies, which we're at liberty to fuck with) makes a lot more sense than disrupting ecosystems that were doing perfectly fine before we came along.
    • by Locke2005 ( 849178 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @02:47PM (#27214483)
      You've obviously never been kept awake all night by a mosquito that, every time you start nodding off, buzzes past your ear! I have. Even if there were no threat of malaria, I'd still be saying "Die you annoying little buzzing mother-fuckers! Die! Die! Die!" How 'bout if we set the lasers up over water to fry the little 6-legged bastards and then let fish eat them... don't you think the fish would appreciate a freshly cooked meal for a change?
    • Re:And then? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by CyprusBlue113 ( 1294000 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @02:47PM (#27214491)
      Indeed, we were much better off when rats roamed the streets unchecked. Think of the poor snakes!
    • Re:And then? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 16, 2009 @02:56PM (#27214641)

      Although bats and Purple Martins can be prodigious consumers of insects, many of which are pests, less than 1% of their diet typically consists of mosquitoes. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mosquito [wikipedia.org]

      There are no known mosquito predators that eat only mosquitoes.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Which is why I say we wipe em out.

    • Re:And then? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by roc97007 ( 608802 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @02:59PM (#27214697) Journal

      I understand what you're saying, -- seriously, we would probably agree on a lot of things -- but where mosquitoes are a real health hazard, there tend not to be adequate predators. The two issues kind-of go hand in hand.

      It's much easier to have these concerns in a first world country where the issue has been controlled. I hope you appreciate that someone living in the Sahel may feel differently.

      I'm a little concerned that we'll reach a point where we tell a third world country, where significant numbers of people are dying of malaria, "We have this technology that will make a profound difference in the mosquito vector, but we're not going to allow you to use it because we're concerned about potential, but as-yet unspecified damage to your environment. Hope the fever gets better."

      • Is that they include a bunch of speculative technologies, but completely fail to mention ones which are already proven to work and which are already available.


      • The basic issue is that you have a laser system capable of reaching down into the atmosphere to kill things close to or on the ground. There are two basic problems:

        1) That takes a LOT of power. If refueling the original star wars system was likely to be a problem, this is a million times worse.
        2) Theoretically such a system could be revised to hit other targets. Who would control it? Suppose terrorists hacked it. Suppose the military co-opted it. All manner of bad things could happen with such a system. For example, imagine if you could blind even a small fraction of New Yorkers, especially those driving on the roads on rush hour.... The effect might be far worse than 9/11.....

        I smell a cover for a new more powerful and destabilizing weapons platform in space. The thing simply can't be useful against mosquitos and the only real use I can see would be on the battlefield.

        • by roc97007 ( 608802 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @06:02PM (#27217777) Journal

          > The basic issue is that you have a laser system capable of reaching down into the atmosphere to kill things close to or on the ground. There are two basic problems:

          The first being, I really don't think anyone is suggesting we nuke mosquitoes from orbit. I mean, that would be really cool, and if they do it that way I hope I get a chance to see it in action. I can just imagine the gentle sparkle of flaming mosquitoes lighting up the twilight sky over Khartoum. It would be a tourist attraction.

          But, reading the article, they talk about must shorter distances, like, say, across the room. Although disappointing, this kind-of solves the power problem, and the hijacking problem, and the destabilizing weapons platform in space problem. (We'll leave that last one to the Chinese.)

          I don't have an opinion about blinding commuters from space, except to say the view from space is pretty much straight down, so you'd have to get a bunch of commuters to all look up at the same time. But if you could do that, blinding them would be redundant.

    • Re:And then? (Score:5, Informative)

      by John Hasler ( 414242 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @02:59PM (#27214705) Homepage

      > Am I the only one who thinks that humans need to stop fucking around the with the order
      > of things and deal with it?

      Unfortunately, no.

      > Finding a cure for malaria (in our own bodies, which we're at liberty to fuck with)

      But then we won't be able to transmit it to mosquitos, which are also negatively affected by it. More mosquitos... but then pressure on other prey. Suddenly other species go extinct or apex predators populations explode because that of the oversupply of mosquitos.

      The same argument can be applied to many diseases. Obviously, we must stop trying to control disease and just learn to deal with it.

      Get this through your head: there is no "order of things." God/Gaia/Mother Nature does not exist and never did. Eden never happened.

    • Re:And then? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by barc0001 ( 173002 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @03:00PM (#27214731)

      Permanent effects? I hope this system has permanent effects on the mosquitos, and that permanent effect is they fucking die. There are TRILLIONS of the goddamn things on this planet. Carving out a bunch of yard sized pockets where the little bloodsuckers can't go without meeting hot laser death is not going to make even the slightest dent in their overall population. Even if these systems blanketed every urban area on the planet, we'd probably still only nail 2% of them. Species wise, that's a rounding error on a census.

      • What if the mosquito population is actually a symptom for a deeper problem? This solution may be the equivalent of sewing up the skin where a compound fracture broke through without setting the bone.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          But what if the broken bone is a symptom of a deeper problem? There may be a man with a baseball bat swinging at the patient when he sees blood.

          Also, what if the patient has no arms? What exactly are you sewing up then, huh?
    • Re:And then? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @03:06PM (#27214811) Journal
      I don't normally advocate genocide (after the first cup of coffee), but when it comes to mosquitos I find it hard to come up with compelling arguments against.
      • by vlm ( 69642 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @03:19PM (#27215015)

        I don't normally advocate genocide (after the first cup of coffee), but when it comes to mosquitos I find it hard to come up with compelling arguments against.

        How bout the genocide of the cute and cuddly smallpox virus? Poor defenseless mother earth once again at the mercy of evil scientists, especially those horrible exploiting capitalists.

        I'm sure we can keep some mosquitoes in a liquid nitrogen freezer just in case... until they escape, anyway...

    • by Twinbee ( 767046 )

      Aren't there cases where we need to sometimes give nature a 'helping hand'. Can't think of any atm, but I'm sure I remember something.

    • by Chees0rz ( 1194661 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @03:11PM (#27214891)
      You've obviously never been to Maine. I am willing to take the risk so that I can go camping in the summer time!
      Now that I've moved out to California- whenever I hear "It's buggy"- I just have to laugh.
      You don't know "buggy" until you've seen a giant mosquito eat a small child... in fact...

    • Re:And then? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by quarterbuck ( 1268694 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @03:15PM (#27214959)
      You have no idea about the scale of the problem if you have not lived in Tropical areas. There are way more mosquitoes in the swamps/forests and preying on animals than are there in homes. We can install one of these laser doohickeys in every home and we still will have killed only a fraction of all mosquitoes in the world.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        Pet peeve, but technically 1/1 is a fraction. I.e. killing a fraction of all mosquitoes would kill them all where $fraction = 1/1.

        A small or tiny fraction - now that's different :)

        Sorry - buried in math at the moment

    • Is that you, Pleakly ?
  • Cost/Benefit? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @02:42PM (#27214393) Journal
    TFA is a bit thin on details, I wonder how the performance of this system compares to one of the numerous CO2+odor attractant trapping systems already in use. Frickin lasers(pew pew pew) are certainly cooler; but the whole exercise is rather silly if a simple mechanical system that runs on propane and pheromones is more efficient.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ProppaT ( 557551 )

      I would think you'd need quite a jolt to kill a mosquito too, especially in laser form. What would the electricity bill be on this thing just to shoot down some mosquitoes? Hell, screw that, give me a laser system to kill carpenter bees and you have yourself a sale.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Chris Burke ( 6130 )

        Hell, screw that, give me a laser system to kill carpenter bees and you have yourself a sale.

        s/carpenter bees/door-to-door (salesmen|evangelists)/;

        or more immediately practical

        s/carpenter bees/the SWAT team about to kick in my door/;

      • What would the electricity bill be on this thing just to shoot down some mosquitoes?

        I believe it's part of the stimulus package. Either that or this will be used as an excuse to keep the sales tax increase in California.

      • > I would think you'd need quite a jolt to kill a mosquito too...

        I would think that you'd need quite a small jolt to kill a mosquito. The idea is just to kill it, not vaporize it.

    • Especially bearing in mind the kind of places that need malaria prevention. Developing an anti-mosquito laser system would be prohibitively expensive for the few countries who could actually really need it, and that's before you think about purchasing and maintaining the damn things.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      Propane is a limited quantity and produces waste. Electricity for the device could be generated by solar power, thereby lessening the environmental impact.
      The propane and pheromone methods are also limited in that they are harshly affected by weather, and may not be at all available in the areas where their needed most. These methods are prominent in the US only because of our abundance of propane and pheromone production.
    • by SuperBanana ( 662181 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @03:06PM (#27214809)

      I wonder how the performance of this system compares to one of the numerous CO2+odor attractant trapping systems already in use.

      My folks have two- and despite that, they still have tons of mosquitoes and the traps take weeks to fill up.

      They have $$$ odor cartridges that last barely a week or two, the traps are really gross to empty (and usually full of really angry, hungry mosquitoes), you have to go to the hardware store often to fill the tanks, people steal the machines (they're expensive), the traps are ridiculously unreliable (they don't like getting wet...the idiots used exposed circuit boards and freakin' PC COMPUTER FANS). Nevermind they're burning LNG/propane 24x7 and use at least 30W-40W of electricity; not exactly enlightened from a climate/environmental perspective these days.

      If you don't like mosquitoes, build/buy some bird and bat shelters and put 'em up.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Lumpy ( 12016 )

        Most effective is the 30 Watt UV lights with 110V closely spaced screens. the old tyme "BUG ZAPPER" I had 4 for my home in mid michigan and every evening in the summer you would hear them frying nearly non stop. In the morning the huge pile of dead bodies below them were a testament to their effectiveness.

        The cool part, the birds love them. the pile of bugs you see at 6am will be gone by 7am when the birdies come by to feast.

        Couple with that chemicals that also kills the damned things in the grass and

    • by hax0r_this ( 1073148 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @03:19PM (#27215003)
      I know a guy who owns property in rural Alaska (a very swampy area), and in summer the mosquitos are terrible. He has been experimenting with the propane powered mosquito traps, and has found that he can't leave them out overnight. The problem? They catch so many mosquitos that the trap fills up and causes the whole thing to burn up.

      His solution so far has been to run 3 of them at once for short periods of time during the day when he can periodically empty them.

      I'm not sure how much propane they use, but he has also complained about that. Since he has to fly it all in, and propane bottles aren't the most efficient use of weight/space in a plane. I also wonder about the environmental effects of using those on a large scale. How much C02 do they actually produce?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Hoi Polloi ( 522990 )

      The article talks about disrupting their vision. I'm sorry but anything less than little puffs of smoke from mosquitoes being zapped out of the air is unacceptable.

      We'd probably just end up breeding a race of laser resistant mosquitoes anyway.

  • by olddotter ( 638430 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @02:46PM (#27214467) Homepage

    Talk about a solution in search of a problem. So let me understand this. We are going to go into 3rd world countries and install autonomous flying drones that zap bugs with on board lasers? Isn't there perhaps a cheaper solution?

    When did they get good enough to hit the warheads? Did the press stop covering the testing when they started showing some success? I just haven't heard of a big "star wars" defense system test that succeeded.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Talk about a solution in search of a problem.

      Dude, it doesn't matter what the problem is. Lasers are always the solution!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by grommit ( 97148 )

      Well, the other solution is to distribute anti-malaria drugs to millions and millions of people across these third world countries from now until.. well, forever.

      Also, while you may not personally have to deal with malaria on a regular basis, lots of people do have to worry about it. Thousands, if not millions of people die from it. That certainly qualifies as a "problem" to me. There is no search necessary as long as you look somewhere other than your backyard.

      • Malaria isn't the only fatal illness carried by mosquitos, just the one that gets the most attention, so don't stop your cost assessment with just malaria.

        Mosquitos kill more humans every year than any other animal. Of course, introducing mosquito controls into regions where religion or ignorance (but I repeat myself) prohibits birth control is likely to cause even more problems, but at least they're self-inflicted problems for the population in question.

    • Strictly speaking, what we have here is "an inadequate solution in search of an easier problem".

      Star Wars never worked, and still doesn't, because intercepting reasonably modern ICBMs is really difficult. Hitting small, distinctly subsonic, wholly unarmored, non-countermeasure-deploying, organisms that spend most of their time hovering is orders of magnitude easier.
    • No, we will install a box on a back wall of my house overlooking the backyard and with a LoS t most windows and then turn it on.

      After that we will continually upgrade the software until I can keep my windows open in the hot summer nights without becoming big and red from the damn bites.

      After that we sell millions of those compact boxes to other people in the US with an option to send another of those boxes over to a malaria infested village in the 3rd world.



  • Standing water in your backyard can serve as a breeding ground for mosquitoes, so we advise installing at least a few sharks.
  • I want one in my back yard. Could be really entertaining.

    Seriously, in my area we have bats, and mosquitoes aren't much of a problem.

    • I have bats under my roof, but mosquitoes are still a problem. Installing this around all standing bodies of water might be a problem, because it would kill all mosquitoes and some species which eat them could die, but installing it so it makes impenetrable barriers around houses could be a good idea.
  • by zindorsky ( 710179 ) <zindorsky@gmail.com> on Monday March 16, 2009 @02:49PM (#27214543)
    "So, ten out of ten for style, but minus several million for good thinking, huh?"
  • by Lord Lode ( 1290856 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @02:51PM (#27214571)
    Is this new?? I've seen this movie here the first time in 2005 or something!: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSIWpFPkYrk [youtube.com]
  • I saw this before... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by raijinsetsu ( 1148625 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @02:52PM (#27214585)
    If you read David Brin's "Earth", you will note that there is an explanation of how "Star Wars" technology was modified to control infestations of africanized bees(killer bees) in local apiaries. The book was published in May of 1991.
    The premise was that honey bees flapped their wings at a lower frequency. Targeting the higher frequency enabled the device to precisely target only the invading killer bees.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      to control infestations of africanized bees

      The slang term is "Biggers". Kind of like "Wiggers" only it's in regards to bees.

    • I read Earth last week, and thought the summary looked familiar. Thanks for reminding me. I played with this idea a while ago (although a good decade after David Brin) and eventually decided that high-pressure water jets made more sense than lasers. I wonder why they went with lasers in the end.
  • by sunking2 ( 521698 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @02:56PM (#27214643)
    With my Zimbabwen $1000000000 bill. I think that puts the price scale about in line with SDI
    • By order of Bobby Mugabe, Zimbabwe currency will now use exponential notation.
      Please queue up for the new 1E12 bill (terabuck for a clusterfuck).

  • Since when were the humans non-combatant in this?

    Sounds like a very American attitude...

  • by AioKits ( 1235070 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @02:56PM (#27214649)
    As I see it this could serve two purposes at once. The first one has already been stated in taking care of mosquitoes. The other would be if this system were deployed in key locations, we could turn every marsh and swamp in the world into techno/rave hot-spots, thus taking care of another issue I currently have! Brilliant!
  • by SuperBanana ( 662181 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @02:59PM (#27214711)

    Seriously, the populace would be far better served by figuring out what indigenous creatures prey on the mosquitoes, and encouraging their habitat. If there aren't any, carefully try an introduction of bats / birds. Careful meaning "find out if they like to eat anything else that doesn't spread malaria."

    Around here in the US, you can actually buy "bat boxes" that come with instructions on finding the best location. You have to leave it up for a couple months, but eventually, bam, you've got your own personal furry little mosquito vacuum...and they are damned efficient at it.

    That would be the smart solution, but instead, we have local/city/state governments spewing chemicals into the air...

    • ...try an introduction of bats

      We have bats in Austin, and still way too many mosquitos.
      The most practical solution I have found is to cower indoors with the AC on playing Call of Duty.

  • by rarel ( 697734 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @03:00PM (#27214729) Homepage

    "We'd be delighted if we destabilize the human-mosquito balance of power. Yes gentlemen, we're on the way in and no one can bring us back. For the sake of our country and our way of life, I suggest you get the rest of our sharks in after them, otherwise we will be totally destroyed by mosquito retaliation. My boys will give you the best kind of start, fourteen hundred megawatts worth, and you sure as hell won't stop them now. So let's get going. There's no other choice. God willing, we will prevail in peace and freedom from fear and in true health through the purity and essence of our natural fluids. God bless you all."

    Then he hung up. We're still trying to figure out the meaning of that last phrase.

  • by smooth wombat ( 796938 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @03:01PM (#27214739) Journal
    Raise more dragonflies. Dragonflies eat mosquitoes.

    Of course, if we would drain all the pools at foreclosed homes [medheadlines.com], that would have a significant impact as well.

    Granted, if you're in the south where there are thousands of acres of swamp land, you might have a problem breeding enough dragonflies to make a dent in the mosquito population.

    Then again, bats are wonderful eaters of mosquitoes [ufl.edu]. For those who have the room, bat boxes [batcon.org] will provide an invitation for bats to do their work. As most bats don't come out until sundown, there will be no interference with your enjoyment of your yard during the day while at night, you can watch and cheer them on as they devour those annoying mosquitoes.
  • What The Fuck? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Colin Smith ( 2679 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @03:03PM (#27214763)

    In a 2007 brainstorming session aimed at combating malaria, Dr. Lowell Wood, the architect of that system, proposed modifying his original idea to kill mosquitoes.

    There are 2 morals to this little story:

    1: Who the fuck invites anti ballistic missile system developers to brainstorming sessions on how to fight malaria?
    2: If the only tool you know how to use is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.


  • by Maxo-Texas ( 864189 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @03:10PM (#27214869)

    Given their high breeding rate, anything short of 100% extermination will mean mosquitoes that are immune to lasers within 10-20 years.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Maxo-Texas ( 864189 )

      I could see it being taken as a joke- but I'm serious.

      Anything with a high breeding rate will suffer 99.9% losses- the remaining .1% will be partially resistant to the problem and replace itself in a single breeding season. Even within days for bacteria.

      If you cant' get 100%, it's better to pass.

      • by mea37 ( 1201159 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @03:50PM (#27215477)

        First off, evolution isn't magic. The scenario you're describing assumes that some mosquitos could survive this weapon today. If we get away from the "one breeding season" assumption and allow a longer timeframe, it still assumes that a solution is within the range of biological adaptation, which is not a sure thing.

        So the odds are we're not moving toward "laser-proof" mosquitos any moreso than we have bullet-proof deer running around. You might get mosquitos that evade the targeting system -- females that beat their wings like males, or individuals that present a profile that looks more like a butterfly to the computer. And if so... then you're back where you started, having played out a temporary repreive from the mosquito problem.

        In other words, it's only better to pass if the adaptation in the mosquitos actually makes the problem worse.

        "Can't be wiped out by lasers" isn't worse in the context that your alternative is to not wipe them out with lasers anyway.

      • "Anything with a high breeding rate will suffer 99.9% losses- the remaining .1% will be partially resistant to the problem and replace itself in a single breeding season."

        Of course, a mechanism for resistance has to be available for this to happen. It is rather difficult to imagine how a mosquito could become "resistant" to a laser - it can hardly evolve into being transparent, or fully reflective.

        The only avenue for "resistance" would be to cease to be attracted to humans, and thus not be in the area where

  • by bugs2squash ( 1132591 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @03:20PM (#27215027)
    is invent a violent video game for mosquitoes, then they'll wipe themselves out in knife fights.
  • It works about 50% of the time if you know exactly when and where the mosquitoes are at the time of the attack.

  • How come I associate blood-sucking insects with that pitifully poor insurers' executives?

    Methinks I would like to also be a Darth Vader of this product lasers having, and get Medieval with them.

  • by prometx42 ( 1107413 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @03:36PM (#27215245) Homepage
    Mark my dark, cynical, Orwellian words... You do not, n o t, want Pharmaceutical companies, NGO's and the "unnamed whomever else", to broach the technology of using insects to deliver vaccines. It takes little imagination to envision, how swarms of biological creatures carrying, already dubious, chemical formulations for "wet injection" into human beings, could go terribly, terribly wrong. Let's focus on the happy-go-lucky, devil-may-care, flying cars and 50% efficient solar; and leave the technologies of the technocrat-demon-overlords, in the adjacent Blade Runner-like dimensions, mmmmmkay?
  • by Anomalyst ( 742352 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @05:13PM (#27216917)
    Do not bank towards laser and expose remaining compound eye
  • I'm the Shark (Score:5, Informative)

    by pablos ( 122458 ) on Monday March 16, 2009 @08:16PM (#27219441)

    I work at the Intellectual Ventures Lab where this system is being created. Just wanted to respond to a few points in the comments:

    DDT is non-discriminatory. It does kill mosquitoes, but it harms lots of other life forms as well. Because of its abuse, there are bans and economic sanctions that prevent its use. Changing that is a political problem.

    Using lasers, we don't expect to eradicate mosquitoes entirely, but they can be a way to help reduce their populations enough that malaria can't survive. In particular, the laser system can help create a perimeter to keep people safe.

    As far as we know, there aren't any species that rely solely on mosquitoes as a food source.

    Thanks, I will try to respond if there are further questions here.

All Finagle Laws may be bypassed by learning the simple art of doing without thinking.