Kill 'em All!

March 13, 2016

Nobody  likes mosquitos – and with good reason.  They’re pests. But worse than that – they kill people.  Hundreds of thousands of people died from malaria last year.  More from dengue and yellow fever.  If you add it up, mosquitos kill more people than war!   And now Zika’s in the headlines.  So it’s a pretty good bet that if all the mosquitoes on the planet suddenly dropped dead tomorrow,we might actually rejoice.

But here’s the question – should we kill them off ourselves?   Because for the first time, it seems like that’s actually a choice.  That the technology exists to deliberately wipe out all the mosquitoes.   Exterminate them.  Forever.   But should we?

Here’s Charles Monroe-Kane with journalist Daniel Engber –he’s in favor of mosquito-cide.



I was disappointed at this discussion. More of a distinction should have been made between proposals to eliminate a single mosquito species and ones to eliminate mosquitoes in general. Daniel Engber seemed to champion the idea of wiping out all mosquito species, although the genetic modification schemes he discussed would only be effective against a single species at a time. His argument that mosquitoes are ecologically insignificant was based on the fact that few animals feed exclusively on them. Actually, many thousand tons of mosquitoes are eaten every day by arthropods, fish, amphibians, birds, bats and other animals. The fact of their sheer collective mass gives them ecological importance. Also, although the females of most mosquito species need a blood meal to ovulate, mosquitoes are basically nectar-feeders. They are very significant plant pollinators. This is an important part of the story that was missing from today's program. It is also important to remember that only a few mosquito species bite Humans. I agree with EO Wilson, that a targeted attack on the malaria carrying Anopheles gambiae is worth attempting, but any plans to eradicate all or many mosquito species are uninformed foolishness.

Very well said. You covered all my objections. According to one website there are 175 DIFFERENT species of mosquitos in the U.S. alone. The passenger pigeon argument was absolutely specious. And so was the implication that sufficient research has been done to know how eliminating ALL mosquito species would affect the world. In principle, I'm not opposed to the idea. But we need to be **** careful before doing anything so drastic and irrevocable.

Shame on ttbook for not challenging these points at all!

Actually throughout the entire show you will hear other guests in the hour directly challenging these points. For instance Sonia Shah disagrees even with the select elimination of any mosquito species. She argues that eliminating poverty in the developing world would be a better way to stop malaria.

Musician David Rothenberg argues against the extinction of the mosquito for aesthetic reasons and says, "It would be a deep tragedy to lose the whine, the annoying sound of the mosquito."

And entomologist Jeffrey Lockwood asks a more philosophical question. If we kill the disease-carrying mosquitoes through bio-engineering, what is next? Bed bugs? Rats? He fears that even the select and careful extinction of only one of two species of mosquitoes puts us on a dangerous slippery slope.