TED Conversations

Domagoj Hackenberger

This conversation is closed. Start a new conversation
or join one »

Is the total eradication of mosquitoes a true solution?

Mosquitoes have a massive ecological role in nature. Especially as main food source for great number freshwater fish and birds.

progress indicator
  • Jan 5 2013: Yes, I am also worried about the massive ecological side effects that the extinction of a species will typically involve.
    If this mosquito that is responsible for so many deaths around the world were to become extinct our already rapidly growing human population would grow even faster than it already is, and this will have massive negative effects on our future generation's quality of life. Please don't mistake me when I say this, because I would not like anyone that I know to contract a fatal disease because they didn't apply enough deet. But the Earth does need to have a control mechanism on the rate of human population growth, otherwise it will be left to our politicians who will probably decide on something deeply unethical that resembles ethnic cleansing.
    Is the science community at least not already convinced that everything in nature works in balance with one another, and an extinction of any species would destabilize the whole ecosystem? For example, one of David Attenborough's documentaries focused on a fungus that spreads relative to the size of a population of ants in the Amazon Rain Forest. When the population of ants went up, the chances of the ants getting this fungus that killed them increased and so reduced their population until the chance of them getting the fungus went down.
    I think that we as humans should be humble enough to accept our place in this eco-system and be respectful enough to undergo hardship for the sake of a more stable, heathlier and happier Earth.

    Hadyn Parry, just because we can do it, doesn't mean we should.
  • Jan 6 2013: "Is the total eradication of mosquitoes a true solution?"

    No, a natural populations in nature need to survive to prevent ecosystem collapse, however, as with all vermin, there are far more mosquitoes in cities then there would be on the same area of land if there was no city on it and mosquitoes don't really play an ecological role in cities, so decimating mosquitoes in cities is fine, as long as it doesn't affect mosquito populations in nature. Genetically making mosquitoes sterile endangers natural mosquito populations and is therefore a stupid idea.
    • Jan 15 2013: Good point John. Singapore can be called a nations state city. The control of mosquites in that city is excellent, and it all goes to the dilligence of the public health service and their citizens who follow stringently the laws laid down to keep control of this menace.
      May I also point out that during COLONIAL times, the scourge posited by mosquitoes was recognised and many containment programs were instituted to control them with very good effects.
      So good in fact, that the threat was down graded and Malaria was fast receding everywhere.
      Frome the mment many of these colonial states acheived self determination and government was handed over to indigenous people, these control measures were no longer considered neccessary and dispensed with. Usually under the guise of, "we can no longer afford them". No one ever pointed out that the previous colonial govts had the same income as the incoming indigenous govts.
      So from where I sit, the reason the humble mosquitoe has made such a huge come back, is simply short sighted ness and stupidity of such govts. I guess you could say, they've cut their noses off, to spite their faces., and don't elicite much sympathy from me for their situation.
      However, in all fairness, I must say the Australian Govt, (Federal AND State) are also very much guilty of similar crimes, especially in W.A. where we face the ever increasing threat of Ross River Virus spreading over larger and larger areas. It would appear our state Govt is not too conserned about the spread and the financial impact upon state coffers whilst carriers are imobilised with the disease for a lengthy period of recuperation. I am unaware of any control measures proposed or undertaken by our state Govt at this point in time.
  • Jan 4 2013: The ecological aspect would seem tricky at first glance, but it really isn't. Even with this technology available to us, humans are in no way close to becoming the 'Banes of Mosquitoes'. In fact, our current behavior is the best thing that has ever happened to the mosquitoes; by giving them mobility to spread across the world, we have made them one of the strongest species on this planet. Mosquitoes have no natural capabilities that would allow them to spread in this way. Most mosquitoes have no business being in the Americas at all. So if we are doing anything, we are in fact correcting our previous disturbance of nature.

    And also; since all males die within days, we can actively stop our 'treatment' at any given point. We have total control of the development, and can specify the exact number of mosquitoes world wide that we want.

    This technology is literally perfect. It is for these kinds of situations that the word 'perfect' exists.
    • thumb
      Jan 4 2013: Your conclusion seems to say that non-indigenous life forms can be annihilated without consideration of the impact. Is that true?
      • Jan 4 2013: No, I address this in the second part of my answer; this technology doesn't necessarily wipe out the population since the males are short-lived. The process can be slowed down or reversed at our convenience. So you could start off with a smaller dispatch of these killer-males, and then customize your approach after observing the ecological effect.
        • thumb
          Jan 4 2013: Thank you. Do females live long enough to allow "observing the ecological effect" of the annihilation of all males? How many males would need to be kept in reserve? You use the word "perfect" which guarantees 100% beneficial results with no risks. Are you sure you want that word?
        • Jan 6 2013: @Edward Long

          You can always go in Egypt, grab the females and males of this species, and reintroduce it into America.

          This technology is intended to remove that non-native mosquito from the countries in which it shouldn't be and it arrived in the last 30-50 years thanks to human trades, not to wipe it out from the entire world.

          In respect to your former question, it should be considered that non-indigenous life forms have been introduced without consideration of the impact too. We were not even aware of it, so there has been no asses. It is fairly impossible for humans to actually understand how important are certain balances for an ecosystem, but to me the obvious answer out of ignorance is that "how nature made it before human intervention, should be fine restore it back".

          I do agree that "perfect" is a dangerous word, though. ;-)
        • thumb
          Jan 9 2013: RE: "I wasn't able to reply. . .
          We agree "perfect" will always be hypothetical in the natural realm. Thank you Mr. Mortensen.
        • thumb
          Jan 9 2013: @ Robert V'Ger
          I read "total eradication of mosquitoes" to mean total eradication of mosquitoes. So Mr. Mortensen's proposal is to eradicate only non-indigenous species? If so, I agree that in cases where the introduction of non-indigenous species produces harmful results those species should be eradicated. It's a good idea to mimic the natural. Thank you!
      • Jan 9 2013: @ Edward Long (I wasn't able to reply directly to your last post): Yes, I want that word, though I admit that it actually comes down to the motives of the USER of this approach.

        The life-span of the females isn't relevant, as long as we leave a percentage of healthy males. Insects have a much faster reproduction cycle than you seem to realize. You have to view this process in terms of generations of mosquitoes; if you kill half of the next generation of offspring, you still have a healthy half to observe when planning your next move. This is just an example though, you could also use much less influence in order to gain understanding of the ecological effects of the treatment, in a specific environment.

        EDIT: I just realized that I may have missed the point of this discussion. If the question that Domagoj Hackenberger (author of this thread) asked is taken out of it's context (a comment on a certain type of genetic manipulation; a tool), the answer becomes much simpler; killing every single member of a species without concern for the environment is not only wrong, it's actually pretty incomprehensible in a debate. The question in itself suggests action without contemplation, and it just makes me wonder if this is a course of action that anyone would suggest. At this point I feel that my personal opinion should be expressed, instead of further argumentation; I believe that the current mosquito population should be considered a pest, since it poses a lethal threat to our species. However I also believe that mosquitoes are beautiful creatures that should continue to enrich our environment on their own terms (as opposed to being carried around the world by our transportation routes).
  • Jan 16 2013: Playing GOD is something humans invariabley do, with excrutiating outcomes. I do not believe we as a species are smart enough, or maybe wise enough is the term, to make these kinds of decisions.
    • thumb
      Jan 27 2013: To expand on Timothy's idea:

      Nassim Taleb's book Antifragility is about complexity and how we tend to ignore complexity in world around us. His book is also about the linear way in which we approach our world -- what you could call reductionist thinking instead of systems thinking. He argues that we don't have the mental capacity to understand the complexity and intelligence built into the world around us. And because of this he lives by the 2,000 year rule -- refusing to eat, drink, do anything that hasn't been around for at least 2,000 years. This means not drinking soda, not living with air conditioning, not eating oranges, and a host of other things.

      What's the point? The 2,000 year rule is a belief in complexity. It's an acknowledgement that there is intelligence and purpose built into things that have survived over the years. And it's a mistrust of new the new things that are introduce into the world every day that haven't been tested against reality.

      Just like Taleb I don't believe in our reductionist view of mosquitoes as pests to be rid of. I don't believe in changing something that has been around for 2,000+ years because a world without mosquitoes is untested against reality and is likely to have tremendous unforeseen consequences. Just look at the 2008 financial crisis. Are we really that good at controlling our fate and the world around us?
  • thumb
    Jan 14 2013: The sickle-cell genetic mutation occuring naturally in human blood cells in malaria regions, is an indication that a natural resistance to malaria is possible.

    This has obviously taken thousands of years in indigenous populations to evolve in the blood, but nonetheless shows that resistance to malaria might potentially be modified by engineering our own resistance, rather than by wrecking yet another important ecosystem to which mosquitos belong.

    Research in Kenya, where sickle-cell has developed as a 'trait' rather than as a pathology, has been shown to confer resistance on populations in this region where malaria is rife:


    However, there are caveats to genetically modifying human immune responses via something similar to sickle-cell. One is that its over-development can cause anemia, lung problems and strokes. Secondly, Westerners visiting malaria regions would still have to rely on prophylaxes, which can be unreliable and whose efficacy can be finite.

    My opinion is that modifying human resistance with what nature has shown us, is the way to go.
  • Jan 9 2013: QUOTE; Is the total eradication of mosquitoes a true solution? UNQUOTE.
    Answer= NO !
    In another life, I was heavily involved with the 'CONTROL' of the Anophelies mosquitoe. Also during that period I lived in Singapore and Malaya where there were heavy infestations of them and the dangers they posed to humans was serious indeed.
    I must say that the Singaporeans took the threat very seriously and instituted excellent control measures to ensure the opportunities of rampant breeding were minimised with excellent results.
    My earlier involvement was in Vietnam where they aslo posed serious dangers, however because of the turmoil caused by the war there, control measures were not co ordinated and peace meal only.
    I believe there is a place for mosquitoes in our environment, though serious measures must be kept to keep their threat under control.
    I notice no one has so far mentioned that mosquitoes and their larvae are serious food sources for anquatic life of all persuasions, cut out the food source of mosquitoes completelty and it will effect the aquatic life forms as well.
  • Jan 5 2013: After some research:

    I know that this method of mosquito control is very flexible and it is, theoretically, bulletproof.

    But in mine opinion there is solutions that can be more direct and yield even better results. For example use of Bacillus thuringiensis Cry toxin in form of pellets (larvicide). The Cry toxin method is more demanding and even costs more but effect can be localized.

    However, method presented in the video is very good for mosquitoes that have strong biological relation with urban areas (eg. Culex pipiens). Because pesticides have less effect in urban area.

    For species that are not biologically related to cities (eggs are laid in swamps, ponds, lakes, wetlands eg. Aedes vexans) this method is not necessary.
    • Jan 5 2013: For container breeders like Aedes aegypti (the key vector of dengue) the problem with larviciding is finding the breeding sites. Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis works well, as do various chemicals - but only if you can get them into the breeding sites, which are essentially any small water-filled container - bucket, blocked rainwater gutter, used tyres, etc. There are so many of these in any urban environment that it is near-impossible in practice to find and treat enough of them. A key feature of engineered sterile males is that they will actively seek out the wild females over a significant area and thereby solve this searh problem. I agree that the situation will vary from species to species; for some mosquitoes breeding in larger bodies of water such as Aedes taeniorhynchus use of larvicides seems more effective.
  • Jan 4 2013: You've made a valid point that makes a good case for mosquitoes. They are needed for ecological balance.
    But many plants and animals have gone into extinction as a result of human activities and excesses. I doubt if mosquitoes would be missed.
  • Jan 4 2013: Good point Maybe the problem varies among types of misquitoes. In fact, it does.
  • thumb

    . . 100+

    • 0
    Jan 13 2013: Total eradication of the disease-bearing ones, IS a true SOLUTION.
  • thumb
    Jan 13 2013: This issue very well touches me cos its very particular to Africa. The devastation of malaria which directly results from mosquito bite is well known globally. Matter-of-factly, I'm just recovering from a bout of malaria, you can imagine how it feels to be sick... I mean malaria makes you useless as a human not mentioning productive man hour lost to this sickness Africa wide. Please complete eradication from Africa is what I advocate. If mosquitos are useful in other continents well..., but they aren't welcome in Africa
    • thumb
      Jan 14 2013: In light of this vein of thinking, it is quite understandable if mosquitoes sought to remove humans from Africa. That is, in the hypothetical instance in which they were intelligent.

      But the negative consequences of eradication are more far reaching than most people understand. The complexities of ecosystems can be difficult to understand, and removing a significant part of one can have dramatic consequences that go well beyond just one species. You might find that the elimination of mosquitoes also harms all creatures that feed on them and their larvae: Fish, birds, reptiles, and amphibians.

      How many people in Africa need Fish for their food? How about birds?

      What if mosquitoes play some essential role in nature, as bees do? We might not understand it until it is too late and thy are already gone.

      A better system is to deal with the specific problem: the diseases carried by mosquitoes and similar biting iinsects. In the United States (a country whose mosquito population in some parts would horrify even people from the Tropics....they can come in clouds sometimes), mosquitoes are controlled in heavily populated areas with pesticides, but live out their lives uninterrupted where there are few humans.

      For prevention of diseases born by mosquitoes like malaria and certain kinds of flu, an extensive program of vaccination also is in place. Tonic (quinine) is also still used as a prophylactic even today as well.

      It is possible to strike a balance with nature, you see. Try to fight it and it will fight you back; work with it and it will find room for you.
  • Jan 12 2013: Not all species of mosquito bite, and of those that do, only the females are blood suckers. Mosquitoes mostly feed on plant nectar, but the females of some species require blood protein to develop eggs. Other species are able to produce once cycle of eggs without blood feeding but must find a host in order to produce subsequent egg clutches. Still others don't require blood at all, getting all the protein they need during their larval stage by eating the larvae of smaller species of mosquito.

    So right off the bat, if you're going to get rid of any species of mosquito it would be those that require blood to develop eggs. Of those that can produce a single cycle of eggs without feeding on blood, it would be great if they could genetically engineer them to die, along with their male counterparts, after a single reproductive cycle (which they will do all on their own if they are unable to find a blood host).

    I believe genetic researchers have been able to modify mosquitoes to produce a bacterium that kills the dengue virus before they become vectors of the disease. If they can achieve the same results with west Nile virus and encephalitis, it would be a start, but that still leaves us with malaria and heart worm (not to mention mosquito bites).

    If the only way to put an end to the blood sucking ways of these tiny disease vectors is to eradicate them all, I suppose I'd be okay with it. But I'm confident we'll find a better solution through biotech.
  • thumb
    Jan 11 2013: I think eradication of any life-form is a primitive solution. I hope that in the near future genetic and nanotechnology will help ups deal with all manner of illness. My impression is that, in nature, when one predator or blood sucker dies off, another takes it's place. We should search hard to find a way to kill the plasmodium that causes malaria, etc. Eradicate that sucker.

    Perhaps we should look at landscaping the tropical and subtropical regions of our planet to eradicate these types of pests. It's funny, but there is so much work to do on our planet it's hard to understand why people are out of work. We did it around the Panama Canal.

    I defiantly wouldn't suggest we visit other planets and then come home. Incidentally, I think the idea behind our astronauts going to mars and staying there was a spin off from the idea they could bring some kind of alien plague back with them.

    We don't see the problems with malaria and other insect borne illnesses here in America. I wonder if its because of our geography or is it a result of the way we manage our land? Of course there is also the possibility we have polluted the waterways so bad that insects have a problem staying alive. :) Maybe our populations is sparse by comparison to other countries where the inhabitants cling closely to the waterways.

    In the short term, my real answer is: Yes, kill the suckers while we can.
  • Jan 9 2013: IMHO this question makes little sense: a true solution for what?

    Since it has been inspired by the video, one should answer with illnesses. But then again, in the video no one talks of "total eradication of mosquitoes". In the worst case one can claim they want to eradicate one specie, while the author really talks about eradicating that specie only where it is not native. So, no total eradication at all.

    Then, also the answers make little effort to move aside from assumptions. Yes, mosquitoes are needed for the current ecological system balance, no argue. But the question is: how would be the ecological system balance that would result from erasing from existence all the mosquitoes? better/worse in what terms? Exactly what do we loose and what do we gain? Would it be possible to replace part of the current mosquitoes contribute to the current balance with something else, possibly provided by humans, or not? Can we successfully adapt to the loss of segments of wildlife that are instead tied with it and would disappear? In what it would be better, in what it would be worse? Under which assumptions?

    Unless the author restricts the domain of the question a little, and explains it, there is very little to be said on this topic.. except biased viewpoints based on beliefs. One can not foresee the future with a magic ball.
  • Jan 8 2013: I sure would be glad to see them go. Bats can eat something else.
  • thumb
    Jan 6 2013: Will killing off ALL mosquito kill off bats as well. Bats are pollinators. I do not want to have to pollinate everything with a paint brush do you? I think this is a huge mistep.
  • Jan 5 2013: You got it wrong. Hadyn Parry was talking about lowering th population of Aedes aegypti which is invading species. It'll just help that ecosystem return to homeostasis. Interspecific exchange of genes doesn't happed (and even if it does the offspring are dead anyway) so local mosquitoes are safe.
    Only in north Africa it's extinction would make a permanent change in environment.
    • Jan 5 2013: What's with other species like Anopheles or Culex? Some of the mosquito species that transfer diseases are indigenous to some areas of the world.
      I did not said that there will be interspecial gene exchange. I was just concerned about ecological impact on wildlife, theoretically if we wipe out mosquitoes.
      • Jan 5 2013: Any intervention (chemicals, engineered sterile males, whatever) should be analysed for potential risk to the environment and human health on a case by case basis. However, as a general point Jaroslaw's "it's an invading species" is a good one - one would not expect a recently arrived species to be a key part of a native ecosystem. In general, mosquitoes are not keystone species even where they are native. A commentary in Nature in 2010 suggest that the (hypothetical) elimination of all mosquitoes would have minimal effect
        even suggested role as pollinators seems minimal
        However one feature of the use of engineered sterile males is that they are extremely species-specific; this would not be the elimination of 'mosquitoes' but of 'one species of mosquito in the area of the control programme'. There are about 3,500 named species of mosquito. Also, as other contributors have noted, one could suppress but not eliminate if that were thought desirable.