Sometimes I want to commit murder. Well more to the point genocide. Yes it is typical of me — not to want to do things on a minor scale but here I feel justified as the species in question are mosquitoes.
According to The Vox : ‘Over the course of 200,000 years, 108 billion people have lived on Earth. And nearly half, 52 billion, have been killed by mosquito-borne diseases’ (the majority of which are children). If true this is truly mind boggling. Even today mosquitoes are the harbinger of hardship and misery to the human race being responsible for c1m deaths a year and the cause of defects in many more. Closer to home, travelling to India when younger, I used to dread the time that would be spent scratching bites on my skin like a demented loon. Drawing blood in my agony to stop the irritation. Remember the old joke : what is scarier than being trapped in a dark room with a single mosquito? Being trapped with two….
3,500 types of mosquitoes exist with most living off nectar and plants. It is the female of of one of these species which draw blood and carry parasites causing considerable damage through diseases such as malaria, zika, dengue and yellow fever. It isn’t obvious to me what purpose mosquitoes serve on our planet and so I have pondered if eradication of (to my mind) these evil insects is justified. And I have many esteemed individuals on my side — intervening. For example, Scientists have released into the wild a particular species of genetically modified male mosquitoes which upon mating produce a generation of mosquitoes that die before maturity, reducing mosquito numbers. Science is considering other approaches — altering mosquito DNA to produce resistance to parasites, altering the DNA of female mosquitoes to impact reproduction, release of viruses. One scientist put these attempts as ‘the ultimate swatting’. However the reality is although science is aiding at the margin, nature being what it is, evolves rapidly to stay one step ahead so for now we have no effective mass solution or fundamentally, a consensus on whether this is indeed the right course of action.
Because should we? Attempt to eradicate another species when by all accounts they seem to serve no purpose but to cause misery?
For many years it was suggested nature operated in a predicable mechanistic way. French mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace asserted in his 1814 volume A Philosophical Essay on Probabilities, if we knew everything about the universe in its current state, then ‘nothing would be uncertain and the future, as the past, would be present to [our] eyes’. I believe this is part of the deterministic theory of how the world works and it would suggest we can clearly understand the linkages between changes in nature so a decision like eradication can be analysed and justified.
But here is the converse argument for interfering. Edward Lorenz proposed the concept of The Butterfly Effect. The essential idea is small changes in nature can have huge consequences. This causation came to be known as The Butterfly Effect because in His 1972 paper ‘Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas’, Lorenz suggested the flap of a butterfly’s wings might ultimately cause a tornado (MIT Technology review), but this is the catch which is so often mis-understood. Although Lorenz believed a small change in nature can have a large impact, we can’t track a direct consequence. That is ‘If the flap of a butterfly’s wings can be instrumental in generating a tornado, it can equally well be instrumental in preventing a tornado’. Which leaves us with a clear dichotomy on man made interference and one which is not always easily determined given how nature and our environment can take generations to adapt and hence evidence. But….
It is not true to say there are no examples of man made interference and impact. Unfortunately these support the law of unintended consequences. In Mauritius, black rats and pigs introduced by foreign Dutch sailors wiped out the Dodo within a century. Cane toads which are poisonous were released into Australia to control plantation destroying beetles. These toads have altered the ecosystem and reduced predators for the native frogs which have appreciably multiplied. Grey squirrels in the UK were introduced in the 1870’s by the Victorians and in so doing it is believed has materially reduced the natural population of the red squirrel to perilously low levels. Surprisingly, cats are also on occasion seen as invasive — particularly on islands which if you consider are much tighter ecosystems to begin with. Their introduction in parts of New Zealand for example devastated fauna and caused the local extinction of many bird species. In 1985, scientists attempted to remove feral cats in an island off Australia spawning a boom in the rabbit population which has ravaged local crops. Even invasive mice are found to compete with chicks for insects as a food source; having further consequences for bird health….
And that brings us to an additional point in this debate. Even if a species does not cause misery directly to us, but it can be evidenced is having a dramatic impact on a local ecosystem — should we be taking action in the name of biodiversity? Should we kill to conserve? Should humans determine the hierarchy of what can live and die?
An article in the New Scientist suggested if a population of species dies rapidly it benefits the rest of their kind as they learn to adapt and more resources are available for their survival. I can see elements of practicality in that. But there is a difference if nature decides and slyly manages the balance, and it has. Since time immemorial species have come and gone and yet our world has robustly continued on its path. National Geographic in 2019 wrote more than 99% of organisms that had ever lived on earth are extinct. However when humans interfere I can’t help but think we don’t know and cannot foresee the unintended consequences in our short life spans. Nature is too complex and subtle a web. A butterfly is flapping its wings and anything could happen. Though perhaps in the long run it makes no difference and nature course corrects.
I’d like to think that. It allows me to justify and encourage my mosquito serial killer penchant.
Cost centre 2 has speculated if wasps serve any purpose other than to ruin al fresco time. We are a murderous family……