World Mosquito Day August 20, 2019
There is a 1952 film called The Big Sky starring Kirk Douglas (now 103 years-old) that speaks of mosquitoes. The plot calls for Jim Deakins (Douglas) a fur trader, to lead a band of businessmen up the Missouri River to trade furs with the Blackfoot Indians. The movie winds down the river on the way to the trade with all kinds of adventure, mishaps and battles with thieves and unfriendly Indians.
But there is one scene in which the trappers are walking through the mosquito infested woods. The cameraman starts with a wide shot of the men walking, swatting and slapping at mosquitoes and cuts to a close up of one of the men wondering aloud why in the world the woods had to be so full of mosquitoes. Then, Kirk Douglas delivered the line that has stuck with me my whole life. Man asks God why he put mosquitoes here and mosquitoes ask God why he gave man hands. Even the actors in the scene all got a round chuckle out of it.
Sure enough, for most of my life I wondered the same thing? I've been stung by bees, but I know they make honey so it's a nice trade-off. I know a 600lb grizzly bear can kill a man will little second thought, but have you ever had a bear-burger Sullivan's in Anchorage?
Yes some animals/insects while dangerous to us, can hurt us, also provide us food or other resources. It's easy to recognize the trade off in life-value between man and beast.
But when was the last time you were excited about going to a boiled mosquito party? Next time your're in a nice restaurant try ordering the filet of mosquite with all the trimmings. Never happens, so really God, why did you give us mosquitoes?
Yes Mosquitoes Have An Important Role in the Ecology
To answer Kirk Douglas' movie friends questions about why mosquitoes are here, they're actually critical to the lower ends of the ecological system. They're food. That's right, mosquitoes main purpose in life is A) to make more mosquitoes and B) feed fishes, frogs, birds, and other small animals and other insects.
Not only are adult mosquitoes fun flying prey for birds and mosquito-hawks, but their larvae feeds fish, frogs and other aquatic life.
They bite us, because the iron in our blood virtually passes straight through them to whatever eats them. The iron in the catfish you had last night might have come from you. Sort of. Experts say that if mosquitoes went extinct tomorrow in due time the loss of food for small fish, etc., populations would suffer and man ultimately too.
By the bye, the only mosquito that sucks your blood is the female.
Why We Celebrate
But the real reason we celebrate mosquitoes on August 20th is due to the discovery of the link the insect plays in transmitting the disease malaria.
In 1897 Sir Ronald Ross discovered the link between mosquitoes and the malaria parasites transmission. I'm cutting hundreds of paragraphs out of this interesting story, but he ended up letting mosquitoes bite a person known to have malaria, then later examining the mosquito stomachs to find the malaria parasite onboard. Don't even ask how you dissect a mosquito stomach.
The mosquito of course can then pass the parasite on to the next person it bites. While it would take another few decades to develop treatments for the malaria parasite (c. the building of the Panama Canal) now at least mosquitoes could be found and eliminated before they could bite. Mosquito netting and screening were developed for tents and other outdoor uses for protection. We know now that they carry other dangerous items like Zika for which treatments are still being developed.
So there, while I haven't heard of any parades, school closings or band concerts, let's all join together in celebrating World Mosquito Day.
And let me apologize in advance to the ecology, any shot I get at suddenly ending a young mosquito life via blunt force trauma will be immediately taken.