Why Don't We Just Kill All the Mosquitoes?

Answers to every possible mosquito question

Is it my fault that I get bit a lot?

In some ways.

Only females mosquitoes "bite" us, right? Is it a gender issue?

A gender issue? They use our amino acids to help them lay eggs. Blood isn't mosquito food.

The traditional understanding is that carbon dioxide is what draws mosquitoes to us. Smithsonian summed up others recently, which, if I were to condense them into one sentence of advice: Don't have Type O blood, don't be a large person, don't exhale, don't exercise, don't get hot, don't be pregnant, don't drink even one beer, don't have parents who got a lot of mosquito bites when they were your age, and don't wear bright clothing or otherwise call attention to yourself.

The American Mosquito Control Association would add that you should avoid Limburger cheese and perfume.

Can I change the nature of my blood?


Blood clots when it stops moving. Why doesn't it just form a hard little ball inside of the mosquito's suckling chamber?

I don't think suckling chamber is what it's called, but I like that. The mosquito's saliva has compounds that prevent clotting.

I want a bug zapper because of the sense of power. But I feel there is social stigma. Do bug zappers make me a "redneck"?

No, bug zappers are great. Maybe as close as some of us will ever get to divinity. They kill a lot of insects, including mosquitoes, but according to the American Mosquito Control Association there have only been two studies on their effectiveness, and yards without bug zappers had no fewer mosquitoes than those with.

Touching the bug zapper recreationally does make you a redneck. ("I think the more powerful it is, the less you'll feel it.")

Mosquitoes never bit me for many years as a vegetarian. Now I'm eating some meat and getting lots of bites. Coincidence or not?

It could mean your blood has more of the delicious amino acids they need? Or, are you eating so much meat that you start to sweat?


SHARK300200.jpgA Pakistani girl after floods in 2010 (Mohammad Sajjad/AP)

What's a cheap way to keep mosquitoes away from me?

Never go outside! If you have to, though, The New York Times told us yesterday about "A Low-Tech Mosquito Deterrent." Spoiler, it's fans. The solution is a fan. Entomologists at Michigan State published findings in the Journal of Medical Entomology that said, "We recommend that fan-generated wind should be pursued as a practical means of protecting humans or pets from mosquitoes in the backyard setting." 

I have very weak collagen in my skin. Sometimes even a light breeze will displace the skin from my body like tissue paper.

Stay away from fans!

GE also makes yellow "bug lights" that you can use on your porch, which don't attract mosquitoes like incandescent bulbs do.

No one ever died from a mosquito bite.

Mosquito bites lead to the deaths of more people than any other animal.

I can get yellow fever, West Nile, or malaria from a mosquito bite, so can I get HIV?

No, we don't believe it's possible since the amount of blood is so small.

They cause so much death, why don't we just eliminate all the mosquitoes?


Birds? Bats? Don't they keep mosquitoes away?

How many bats would you propose we use?

I'm just asking hypothetically.

Bat expert M.D. Tuttle cites an experiment in which bats released in a lab filled with mosquitoes caught around ten mosquitoes per minute. That's 600 per hour, so 1,000 bats could consume over a half million mosquitoes per hour. The problem is that when bats have other food options, they wouldn't eat mosquitoes at that rate. Mosquitoes are less than 1 percent of a bat's diet. In the 1920's near San Antonio, Texas, people brought in bats to help control malarial mosquitoes, but the project failed.

So we probably couldn't kill every mosquito. Even if we could, they'd be replaced by some other insect. The American Mosquito Control Association warns against trying: "Be advised that species replacing mosquitoes may be even worse."

How much worse could anything be?


Presented by

James Hamblin, MD, is a senior editor at The Atlantic. He writes the health column for the monthly magazine and hosts the video series If Our Bodies Could Talk.

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