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Biotech Earth Medicine Science

Should We Kill All The Mosquitoes? (bbc.com) 470

If scientists could send Zika-carrying mosquitoes into extinction, should they do it? Several science and business journals are now exploring the question, and Slashdot reader retroworks asks if scientists will ultimately target "not just the most deadly species of the animal, but all 12 species of human-biting mosquitoes in the world, responsible for 500,000 deaths per year." The headline on today's [paywalled] Wall Street Journal article begs the question, "Why Not Kill Them All...?" [M]ore business journals are exploring private sector investments to eradicate the species of mosquito entirely, [and] most articles seem to find extinction of the indoors-attacking, dengue fever- and malaria-spreading Aedes aegypti a tantalizing prospect...

The BBC weighed the approach more carefully, noting that mosquitoes make rain forests uninhabitable (and consequences of human populations in rain forests are usually disastrous)... Will capitalism make the itch of mosquito bites be forgotten... Forever?

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Should We Kill All The Mosquitoes?

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  • by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Sunday September 04, 2016 @12:38PM (#52824983) Homepage Journal

    The little bastards like the taste of me, but I'd be wary of creating a vacancy that something worse might fill.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 04, 2016 @01:04PM (#52825147)

      Before we worry about the mosquitoes, we should first exterminate all the journalists who use the phrase "begs the question" [begthequestion.info].

      • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Sunday September 04, 2016 @01:10PM (#52825171)

        Funny thing about language - if enough people start using a word or phrase incorrectly, at some point that usage becomes the correct one.

        • by LinuxIsGarbage ( 1658307 ) on Sunday September 04, 2016 @01:22PM (#52825231)

          Does that mean if people keep using the phrase "I could care less", then the words could and couldn't officially switch meaning?

          • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Sunday September 04, 2016 @01:33PM (#52825279)

            Not if we keep shooting those people.

          • I admit, sometimes I'm fooled by idiots out there. I mean, it's a strange world, and sometimes it's hard for various reasons to pick out the idiots. But once they say "I could care less", "anyways", or "acrosst", I know.
          • by The Grim Reefer ( 1162755 ) on Sunday September 04, 2016 @02:38PM (#52825543)

            Does that mean if people keep using the phrase "I could care less", then the words could and couldn't officially switch meaning?

            Yes, actually it does. The term "awful" used to mean the exact opposite of what it does currently. At one time if someone was in awe of something it was awful. Now awesome has replaced it and awful means the opposite.

            • Changes which have happened quite recently: "really" (which used to mean "real", and now is a generic intensifier; cf "literally") and "hopefully" (which still occasionally means "with hope", but now more commonly means "I hope that").

          • Yes... but possibly *only* in that limited context.

            A good example is the word 'literally'. Pedants love to complain when people use literally as a form of hyperbole (basically the opposite of it's meaning)...but in fact this usage is so old and well established that it's in the dictionary as one of the meanings of the word.
            The dictionary definition of "literally" literally includes the meaning "not literally".

            Whether your use of the word denotes "in actuality" or "I'm making an obvious exaggeration here" is

        • Yep. AC's parents think his generation were responsible for destroying the language, his grandparents think it was his parents. So it goes.

          • Funny thing is - it does bother me when I see or hear people misusing phrases such as "begs the question" or saying "could care less". But that (unfortunately) doesn't change reality.

        • Well, yes, and in the case of things like "drone" it's not too bothersome, since alternatives and clarifications are readily available.

          I still think it's worth fighting for "begs the question," though, since a) accepting defeat means losing the useful original meaning and b) it doesn't actually mean, once you take the individual words, what it is being used to mean, which is "raises the question." Begging is in no sense related to raising.

          I'm going to start using "begets the question" just to confuse people

          • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Sunday September 04, 2016 @03:49PM (#52825823)

            accepting defeat means losing the useful original meaning

            The original meaning is already lost. If you actually use "begs the question" correctly, 90% of your audience will have no idea what you mean, and the other 10% will think you are being pompous. It is best to just avoid the phrase entirely in both writing and speaking.

            • by clovis ( 4684 ) on Sunday September 04, 2016 @08:02PM (#52826811)

              accepting defeat means losing the useful original meaning

              The original meaning is already lost. If you actually use "begs the question" correctly, 90% of your audience will have no idea what you mean, and the other 10% will think you are being pompous. It is best to just avoid the phrase entirely in both writing and speaking.

              This +++
              When one identifies a phrase or word in transition, it's probably best to avoid it. I'm afraid to use "literally" now because I have no idea how it will be interpreted.

        • by SvnLyrBrto ( 62138 ) on Sunday September 04, 2016 @02:43PM (#52825567)

          The difference is context.

          If you and I were having an informal discussion and I corrected you on a "begs vs. raises the question" or how you "could care less" colloquialism, I'd be kind of a dick*. The writing and editorial staff of a publication are something else. They're paid to get it right. It's their job, amongst other things, to use correct spelling and grammar, and to hold to a more educated and formal style in general. And it's entirely right to take them to task over it when they cock it up.

          *Unless of course you pronounce "espresso" with an "x", in which case you're an uncultured heathen who should be held under the steam wand as punishment.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      ...and why is this an idea NOW. I mean, Zika's been out for a (kind of) long time in various parts of the world, and no one ever really thought about wiping them out totally. Hell, malaria and AIDS have been out for years, completely trashing a large number of people every year. But once zika hit the US, it's "KILL ALL OF'M!!!" Typical American way of thinking and it's never ended well.
  • As annoying as mosquitos are, they also serve as a food source for other species. Might be a good idea to figure out where that thread leads before you pull it...

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 04, 2016 @12:42PM (#52825001)

      #mosquitolivesmatter

    • Agreed that this is idea completely half-baked. Definitely need to calculate the ENTIRE food chain, not ignore it.

      [OT] Re: your .sig
      Your "solution" to fighting Stupid Juvenile Whiners is worse then the cure. Violence just begets more violence.
      The proper solution comes from how we should treat all trolls: Don't feed the tolls.

      Don't give them attention. Eventually they will figure out no one gives them a fuck about their insecurity.

    • That was my first thought when I saw the headline, as I know that mosquito larvae are irreplaceable aquatic foodstock for fish such as trout, but the clarification of human biting species makes that a little murkier. I wonder what proportion of all mosquitoes these twelve species comprise?
      • If only the answer to that question could be in the second line of the linked article. Life would be so much easier...

    • by pollarda ( 632730 ) on Sunday September 04, 2016 @12:59PM (#52825123)
      There was a recent study that found that mosquitos didn't serve as an important food source for other species as expected. I don't remember if it was one species of mosquito or all. (Though I have a hard time thinking how various critters could tell the difference while eating them.)

      In many parts of the country or world spraying is used to control mosquitos. Spraying not only kills the fast majority of mosquitos in an area but likely kills other bugs in the area as well. If wiping out the mosquitos eliminated an important food source for other species, we would be seeing a significant decline of other species in areas of heavy spraying. While I'm not arguing for eliminating mosquitos without seriously looking at it, spraying will continue as will the environmental consequences of spraying until it happens.

      Additionally, our politicians always are saying "if the life of one child can be saved...." give up your freedoms. People seem to be pretty ready to live under onerous government rule to save that one (or twelve) lives per year saved. Well, here we have a situation where we can measure what the worth of a human life truly is worth.

    • by Carewolf ( 581105 ) on Sunday September 04, 2016 @01:08PM (#52825161) Homepage

      As annoying as mosquitos are, they also serve as a food source for other species. Might be a good idea to figure out where that thread leads before you pull it...

      It has been investigated. Turns out they are not important for any other species, everything that eats mosquitos mainly eat other things.

    • You don't need to get rid of all mosquitos, just the varieties that feed on animals while carrying diseases. The Zika and Malaria mosquitos are relatively rare, while having an inordinately deadly impact.
  • Unfortunately, mosquitoes have no souls.

  • by nbritton ( 823086 ) on Sunday September 04, 2016 @12:41PM (#52824995)

    I would love not having them around, however be aware that mosquitos are a staple for bats. You have to think about the food chain first before you just go blindly killing all of them.

    • I would love not having them around, however be aware that mosquitos are a staple for bats. You have to think about the food chain first before you just go blindly killing all of them.

      But we only like bats because they kill mosquitos.

    • I would love not having them around, however be aware that mosquitos are a staple for bats. You have to think about the food chain first before you just go blindly killing all of them.

      Much like actual bat biology, I see what you did there...

      • I would love not having them around, however be aware that mosquitos are a staple for bats. You have to think about the food chain first before you just go blindly killing all of them.

        Much like actual bat biology, I see what you did there...

        Never do science with the blinders on.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 04, 2016 @12:59PM (#52825125)

      This article argues otherwise and says the environmental impact would be negligible: http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100721/full/466432a.html

      Other insectivores might not miss them at all: bats feed mostly on moths, and less than 2% of their gut content is mosquitoes. "If you're expending energy," says medical entomologist Janet McAllister of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Fort Collins, Colorado, "are you going to eat the 22-ounce filet-mignon moth or the 6-ounce hamburger mosquito?"

    • Actually they aren't. Some studies have shown about 5% of their diet being mosquitoes. The night is full of other insects.
      • by Dahamma ( 304068 )

        And some have shown more like 1-3% - and it's indiscriminate feeding, ie. mostly through random chance - as you said there is no shortage of other insects for them to eat!

    • by Dahamma ( 304068 )

      Actually, no, they aren't. I read a couple of studies (easy to find) that say mosquitos make up about 1-3% of bat's nutritiional intake, and most of that is just by chance as they are fairly indiscriminate insect feeders.

      My first thought was the same as yours - don't mess with the food web! - but the more I looked into it the more I started thinking that mosquitos (especially the few species that transmit human diseases) do not provide a substantial food source to all but a couple VERY limited ecosystems (

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Let's kill the rich and all the corporations instead. The planet will thank us.

    • by Dahamma ( 304068 )

      Killing people is INSIGHTFUL?

      Funny thing is it's not like the "corporations" are setting out destroying the planet - they are just an amoral entity focused on expansion and profit.

      The driving force of the destruction is the massive growth of the middle class worldwide. Without customers, corporations wouldn't exist. We ALL have to change our attitudes toward consumerism and consumption rather than blame the rich or the poor.

  • Kill them all.

  • How many lives do mosquitoes save by migrating virii and enabling human populations to develop immunities?

    That's the question I'd ask before thinking about killing them all off.

    • That's a bit counter intuitive. There's nothing magical that makes viruses inert in mosquitoes. Viruses either travel through mosquitoes between people or they don't. If they do they are an infection vector. If there was no other way for people to be exposed and build an immunity other than the mosquito then wiping them out would likely also stop the virus in its tracks. ... Kind of what they are proposing to do with the Zika mosquitoes.

  • Yep (Score:5, Insightful)

    by markdavis ( 642305 ) on Sunday September 04, 2016 @12:55PM (#52825083)

    >"If scientists could send Zika-carrying mosquitoes into extinction, should they do it?"

    Yes. In fact, any human biting mosquitoes, not just Zika ones. I personally would prefer the "eradicate to NEAR extinction" option and not complete eradication, however... just to be on the super-safe side. And, of course, we would retain frozen/live samples indefinitely. Perhaps eventually we could find a way to change them such that the females do NOT require blood to procreate.

    The studies I have read seem to indicate that human-biting mosquitoes do not represent a critical or even major link in the food chain for other creatures. They are also very minor pollinators. Many believe their loss will not collapse or even stress any ecosystem.

    I have no problems with the same treatment for fleas, ticks, chiggers, and bedbugs, either.... insects that cause nothing but misery and add little to nothing to the food chain.

  • useless one, like literally in Greek https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org] (anopheles = an-ophelos = without use) so yes, we should.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 04, 2016 @12:58PM (#52825103)

    start with lawyers and leave the poor mosquitoes alone.

  • Meh (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Sri Ramkrishna ( 1856 ) <`sriram.ramkrishna' `at' `gmail.com'> on Sunday September 04, 2016 @12:59PM (#52825119)

    I don't think we should be playing God and deciding who and what species deserve to be around. This seems like the beginning of a bad precedent. It is also extreme laziness. We know what causes and breeds mosquitoes. You should be working on a plan to eliminate the conditions that causes mosquitoes to breed in human population centers. More than that, mosquitoes are just convenient way for zika virus to get passed around. That doesn't mean there isn't any number of paths for pathogens to find their way to human hosts. Are we going to eliminate every species that can be a carrier?

    Perhaps we should try to understand how zika was created. As always, our modern world will beget new species of viruses as a reaction to the things humans are doing. We are finding ways to fight viruses and they are mutating and finding ways to get back at us. It is quite probable that nature itself is trying to curb our own population growth in some manner. Right now, it isn't mosquitoes that is causing eco-logical disasters everywhere. We are

    • Re:Meh (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ultranova ( 717540 ) on Sunday September 04, 2016 @01:28PM (#52825257)

      I don't think we should be playing God and deciding who and what species deserve to be around.

      Deciding people should die for the sake of preserving mosquitoes is also playing God. Once the possibility exists, you can't avoid deciding.

      It is quite probable that nature itself is trying to curb our own population growth in some manner.

      The closest this planet has to a nervous system is our society. Nature isn't trying to limit us any more than your body is trying to limit you. Some choices might have less than optimal outcomes, but that's no different from you getting a hangover: it's not that your body is trying to stop you from drinking, it's that it's not working well do to your actions.

      If you wish to mystify this, then karma is a better framework than vengeful nature deity.

      • I don't think we should be playing God and deciding who and what species deserve to be around.

        Deciding people should die for the sake of preserving mosquitoes is also playing God. Once the possibility exists, you can't avoid deciding.

        I'm sorry, I don't see how that is playing God. You're literally letting nature take its course here. If you want to do something about it, then you need to have a social plan. Don't think that messing around with eco-logical systems is going to solve the problem. It will likely have unintended consequences. You need to work within the working system. Also, really - 'deciding people should die for sake of preserving mosquitoes' was never my position. You created a straw man, and then attacked it.

        It is quite probable that nature itself is trying to curb our own population growth in some manner.

        The closest this planet has to a nervous system is our society. Nature isn't trying to limit us any more than your body is trying to limit you. Some choices might have less than optimal outcomes, but that's no different from you getting a hangover: it's not that your body is trying to stop you from drinking, it's that it's not working well do to your actions.

        If you wish to mystify this, then karma is a better framework than vengeful nature deity.

        You talk about society like it is some single monolithic entity. And seriously, comparing the situation with all its complexity to a simplistic "like a hangover" doesn't make any sense to me. It's nothing like the feedback loop of a hangover.

    • Re:Meh (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Gavagai80 ( 1275204 ) on Sunday September 04, 2016 @02:18PM (#52825463) Homepage

      People have driven so many species extinct that we're a major global extinction event. Suddenly when we decide to do it intentionally just once to the most disastrous killers who server no purpose in their ecosystem and are easily replaced by non-harmful species, that's when it becomes wrong?

  • It's not a question of if, but when. All it takes is one (or more) intrepid scientist(s) with jars of genetically modified mosquitoes, or one mistake by a lab tech somewhere. I think it might be something like the way killer bees [wikipedia.org] were released into the wild and then spread.
  • Killing off mosquito larvae would probably mean the end of most species of freshwater fish, the end of dragonflies and damselflies, and probably a lot more species that I don't know about as far as their eating habits go.
    • by DrProton ( 79239 )

      This is hypothetical. Even if somebody indiscriminately releases millions of genetically modified death-skeeters, it would not make mosquitoes extinct. There are more than 3,500 species of mosquito, for one. Also, from the BBC article, "Would it be wrong to eradicate mosquitoes? [bbc.com]

      The question is likely to remain hypothetical, whatever the level of concern over Zika, malaria and dengue. Despite the success of reducing mosquito numbers in smaller areas, many scientists say knocking out an entire species would

  • capitalism? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by matushorvath ( 972424 ) on Sunday September 04, 2016 @01:12PM (#52825179)

    What TF has this got to do with capitalism? If it happens, it will be a huge regulatory intervention, done by governments and inter-governmental organizations. It will not be done for profit. That's like the exact opposite of capitalism.

  • by WD ( 96061 ) on Sunday September 04, 2016 @01:23PM (#52825239)

    Eliminating pests sure worked well for the Chinese, didn't it? http://io9.gizmodo.com/5927112... [gizmodo.com]

    Here is a picture of somebody in China hand-pollinating a pear tree due to one of the unintended side effects (no bees): https://2.bp.blogspot.com/-9wT... [blogspot.com]

    • Which creates jobs! Another benefit of eradicating the mosquito! Win/win!

      Of course, then those workers will want decent pay and health insurance and things like that, so they'll lose their jobs to robots [businessinsider.com]. It's all the grand circle of life...

    • by kackle ( 910159 )
      From your link: "While many people nowadays would regard tampering with the ecosystem in such a radical way as a shockingly irresponsible idea, ..."

      Apparently not.

      Tell you what, let's try eradicating all humans first, and if it works out, go from there.
    • A campaign done in complete ignorance by a brutal dictator ignoring all science didn't work, therefore forget science?

    • But that was done without scientific evidence. Mao just needed a few scrape goats, Mao was no scientist.

      Its like saying Mao tried to modernism the steel industry and failed miserably, so we shouldnt try to modernize steel production anywhere.

  • Still waiting.... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CODiNE ( 27417 ) on Sunday September 04, 2016 @01:25PM (#52825247) Homepage

    Whatever happened to those laser mosquito zappers? They were coming real soon at least as far back as 2009. The inventors claimed it was easy to do with off the shelf components and aimed at $100 mass produced devices. There were all those cool slow motion videos of mosquitos shot down in flight. Nothing ever came of it... I'd happily pay $200 or more for a working system. There's a real need for such products, maybe a DIY version could be invented and people could build their own open source control systems for them. Malaria was bad enough, now with Zika all over the news I can't understand why these guys aren't swimming in cash.

  • by swell ( 195815 ) <jabberwock&poetic,com> on Sunday September 04, 2016 @01:32PM (#52825275)

    I have seen dramatic evidence that genetically modified fruit flies can wipe out populations and save millions worth of crops. This works on organic farms as well because no poison spray is required. These GM flies don't kill other species, only their own.

    So, where are the modified mosquitoes?

  • Just as a point of reference, look up eradication of the screwworm fly. E.g., http://www.fao.org/docrep/U422... [fao.org]

  • by penguinoid ( 724646 ) on Sunday September 04, 2016 @01:50PM (#52825377) Homepage Journal

    They can't be too ecologically important. Besides, we have plenty of lawyers and politicians to fill the bloodsucker vacancy.

  • That is not begging the question.
  • by rossdee ( 243626 ) on Sunday September 04, 2016 @02:23PM (#52825489)

    Mosquitoes are only a problem when its hot and humid.
    You don't see them around in the winter.
    and they would be less of a problem then anyway. If all your skin is covered up to protect you from the 40 below wind chill then they wouldn't be able to bite you anyway.

  • by Metaphorical Duck ( 4700309 ) on Sunday September 04, 2016 @04:27PM (#52825943)

    The primary argument for killing them seems to be that it would help protect humans. The primary argument against seems to be that there might be environmental consequences.
    Consider if the situation were reversed. Imagine that mosquitoes were currently not killing any humans, but were in danger of going extinct, and there might be environmental consequences to that.
    But wait! Fortunately, we have the ability to save the mosquitoes. All it would take is for some 500,000 people to be sacrificed each year! Now I know this may seem a bit unethical, but most of these people are in very poor countries, so the don't really count, right?
    When you put it like that, the two sides don't seem so evenly balanced. It becomes pretty clear that our moral obligation is to exterminate the mosquitoes that spread disease to humans as soon as we can, using all the tools at our disposal.

    Some people also bring up the possibility that wiping out mosquitoes will give an opportunity for something worse to appear. I don't think this is a good counter argument.
    First, it is never used for any other species that poses a similar health risk. No one would ring their hands over the possibility that wiping out HIV would cause something worse to replace it.
    Second, there really isn't a mechanism by which wiping out mosquitoes could present an opportunity for another species. Mosquitoes don't compete with other blood-drinking insects the way foxes and coyotes compete with each-other over rabbits.
    Foxes and coyotes both have a certain rate at which they consume rabbits. The rate at which foxes consume rabbits plus the rate at which coyotes consume rabbits must be less than the replenishment rate of the rabbits, or over hunting occurs. As a result, a reduction in the number of coyotes means there can be more foxes.
    But mosquitoes and other bloodsuckers don't compete like this. The total amount of harvest-able blood is not much reduced by mosquito activities. 500,000 people/year out of around 7,000,000,000 people = around 0.007% of the world population per year. True, this rate is much higher in high-mosquito regions, but even with very generous assumptions, it's unlikely to rise above 5%.
    The upshot of all this is that wiping out mosquitoes won't suddenly cause a huge increase the amount of food available for any other species whose food source is similar to the mosquito's. As a result, any species that would be enabled by killing the mosquitoes should already have appeared, because the environment is just as favorable for them now as it would be if we were to kill the mosquitoes.

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