A Starry-Eyed 4-Step Guide To Wiping Out A Mosquito

Mar 30, 2016

Photo credit: Matt Twombly for NPR

By Malaka Gharib

Just how, exactly, could we wipe out a species of mosquito?

That’s the question some of our readers wanted to know after reading our story that pondered the fate of the mosquito that carries the Zika virus, the Aedes aegypti. Would attempting to eliminate them be a good thing, or would it somehow backfire the ways things often do when humans meddle with nature?

Most scientists we interviewed, as it turns out, would be all right with saying goodbye to the species. Aedes aegypti carries other deadly diseases harmful to humans, like yellow fever and dengue. Animals don’t depend on this species as a major food source, and the critters don’t pollinate plants. And anyway, they’re an invasive species, infiltrating our cities, where they thrive.

So we asked experts: Do we have the means to get rid of a species of mosquito? And if they were in charge, how would they do it?

Here’s what they proposed.

Step 1: Appoint a world mosquito czar

In the past, there have been successful campaigns to eliminate disease-carrying mosquitoes from small regions. But even on a tiny scale, an incredible amount of political cooperation and strategic coordination was needed.

Andrew Read, a biologist and entomologist who specializes in the ecology and evolutionary genetics of infectious disease at Pennsylvania State University, shares an example from a port town in northeastern Brazil. In the mid-1900s, the government organized an effort to fight malaria by eradicating Anopheles gambie from an area about the size of West Virginia.

Not only was the government united in its goals, but it made sure to set up a careful plan to track progress. An official was in charge of a team that checked another team that checked the insecticide sprayers, says Read. They ended up spraying insecticide into a body of water the size of Switzerland.

To take on Aedes aegypti in the six continents where it lives, we’d need a global mosquito czar.

“Dictatorships are great things if you want to get public health done,” says Read. “These days, people in Florida have lots of paranoia about anyone coming on to their property to control mosquitoes. But in the old days, people just rolled over and did whatever the government told them.”

So let’s say that in a remarkable display of unity, all member nations of the U.N. agree to elect a mosquito czar and abide by the czar’s decrees. What comes next?


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5 comments on “A Starry-Eyed 4-Step Guide To Wiping Out A Mosquito

  • 1
    Pinball1970 says:

    I have been waiting for this.
    Great post.
    The only issue seems to be money.
    6 Billion For the LCH seems a lot just to find one particle, pure research with no real application for a few decades probably.
    The sort of investment posters on here like myself relish.
    This is absolute peanuts compared to bank bail outs, 100Billion plus?
    The cost of eradicating the planet’s most dangerous animal? A mere 0.5 billion



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  • Jumping straight to the money: Kickstarter?

    Pledges in the millions each, please, from all you people named in the Panama Papers leak, still cheaper than paying your fair share of tax.



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  • 3
    Pinball1970 says:

    I thought more would have commented on this since the only issue seems to be money.

    Everyone was worried about Eco system damage or collapse but it seems the experts regard this as worth the risk.

    Eradication of the mosquito may be just of those things that lifts the human race up a notch.

    Not just for the diseases but the collaboration.

    Find a champion to lead the project and a multinational team of experts no expense spared, advertise what they are going to do, spend the money and do it.

    If they can pull that together and make it a success they could do that 100 other things that would be beneficial to the planet.

    Half a billion at a time, peanuts.



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  • @OP- They ended up spraying insecticide into a body of water the size of Switzerland.

    Given that insecticides also kill fish and get carried up the food-chains in increasing concentrations, I would want to see some long term environmental reports on these methods.

    an example from a port town in northeastern Brazil. In the mid-1900s, the government organized an effort to fight malaria by eradicating Anopheles gambie from an area about the size of West Virginia.

    This was around the time when DDT was being extensively used, and the public was being assured it harmless!!!

    Given that much of Brazil’s present mosquito problems arise from pools of dirty water in and near shanty towns, and mosquito breeding ponds created and abandoned by illegal gold miners, or other on-going cavalier developments, I would have little confidence in the ability to carry out this work.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4667572/

    Almost from the start, officials recognised the problem malaria presented to economic development, but early control efforts were hampered by still developing public health control and ignorance of the underlying biology and ecology of malaria. Multiple regional and national malaria control efforts have been attempted with varying success. At present, the Amazon Basin accounts for 99% of Brazil’s reported malaria cases with regional increases in incidence often associated with large scale public works or migration.

    The SNM was created in 1941 and was run by Mario Pinotti starting in 1942 (Deane 1988). In 1943, the SNM began to study the life history, distribution and density of the An.(Kerteszia) complex in southern Brazil. “Bromeliad malaria” covered 40,000 km2 and thus one million Brazilians across the coasts of the state of Paraná (PR), northern the state of Rio Grande do Sul, SP and SC. Furthermore the vector was present from PB to RN, but only the South had a sufficient density of bromeliads to support malaria endemically. They found high densities of bromeliads in major cities like Florianópolis, small towns like Brusque and Joinville, as well as harbours, resorts and beaches near rainforests. This meant bromeliad malaria, or “forest malaria” was effectively an urban concern. It was also highly domestic; 99.2% of the 20,000 mosquitoes captured in homes in 1944 and 1945 were Kerteszia species, which bit during all hours, inside or outside the home (Gadelha 1994).

    Bromeliads, are jungle plants – often epiphytic and living high on the branches of rainforest trees with no contact with the ground. They are rosette shaped with a little pot of rainwater in the centre of rosettes. Tree-frogs insect larvae etc live in these little ponds.



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  • Bromeliads, are jungle plants – often epiphytic and living high on the branches of rainforest trees with no contact with the ground. They are rosette shaped with a little pot of rainwater in the centre of rosettes. Tree-frogs insect larvae etc live in these little ponds.

    http://www.sci-news.com/biology/new-treefrog-species-brazil-dendropsophus-bromeliaceus-03516.html
    The Teresensis’ bromeliad treefrog (Dendropsophus bromeliaceus), male. Image.



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