Vanderlei Almeida/AFP/Getty Images
Know Your Enemy: A Brazilian man, part of the group Mata Mosquito (Mosquito Killer), demonstrates during a recent outbreak of dengue fever.
Know Your Enemy: A Brazilian man, part of the group Mata Mosquito (Mosquito Killer), demonstrates during a recent outbreak of dengue fever. Vanderlei Almeida/AFP/Getty Images
"Undeniably," wrote David Quammen, one of our great science writers, "they have a lot to answer for: malaria, yellow fever, dengue, encephalitis, filariasis, and the ominous tiny whine that begins homing around your ear just after you've gotten comfortable in the sleeping bag." But mosquitoes aren't all bad.
Twenty-eight years ago, in the first essay he ever wrote for Outside magazine, Quammen proposed a few nice things to say about mosquitoes that still hold true (if you are generous, open-minded, have slapped on a little repellent and can think like a mosquito).
You should have no beef with half the world's mosquitoes because the males don't bite. Your problem is with the ladies, not the guys. "A male mosquito," Quammen wrote, "lives his short, gentle adult life content, like a swallowtail butterfly, to sip nectar from flowers."
Mosquito ladies have an excuse. Being (most of them) good mothers, they are biting to provide food for their babies. The problem, I suppose, is that they have a great many babies. "A female mosquito in a full lifetime will lay about 10 separate batches of eggs, roughly 200 in a batch," Quammen wrote.
"That's a large order of embryonic tissue to be manufactured in one wispy body, and to manage it the female needs a rich source of protein; the sugary juice of flowers will deliver quick energy to wing muscles, but it won't help her build 2,000 new bodies."
To do that, the mother mosquito needs blood. Your blood. But I'm sure you (or some of you) can find it in your hearts to forgive her.
And finally (and certainly most creatively):
Knowing, as we all do, that humans for eons have been moving into forests and plains and shores and river valleys and hills, pushing animals, vegetables and minerals around in their very human way, destroying more and more life forms, and knowing, as we also do, that we are down to precious few places on Earth where there is still a rich diversity of species, have you ever wondered why, even into the 21st century, there are still large tracts of equatorial rainforest that have somehow survived human exploitation?
Who or what has defended those last outposts of ferns, butterflies, beetles and ants from humankind?
Quammen says while there may be many explanations, certainly the lady mosquito deserves credit. Every time human settlers stepped into those areas in serious numbers, they got bit, then they got sick, and then, until very recently, most of them backed off.
So all you biophiliacs, tree huggers, Green Party members: If greens everywhere wanted to say thank you to one creature, one fierce defender of ecological diversity who's been willing to bite to defend her turf, they should, says Quammen, say "thanks to 10 million generations of jungle-loving, disease-bearing, blood-sucking insects" — and especially, of course, to the lady mosquito, "nature's Viet Cong."