The Purpose of Mosquitoes in the Ecosystem
You must have seen, a swarm of insects bumbling in your ear and biting unendingly. Not to mention the hazardous health effects caused by the zika virus, malaria, and other pathogens they spread.
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There are questions that arise in minds. What is the purpose of mosquitoes in nature? Is there an evolutionary purpose for mosquitoes? “What’s the benefit of having mosquitoes?”, “Could we exterminate all of them?”, “Should we eliminate all the mosquitoes?” and the list of questions goes on…….
But there is a whole other life of mosquitoes that do not involve biting. The purpose of mosquitoes in nature is entirely different. It includes ecological interactions with plants. But most mosquitoes are viewed as bloodsuckers which make our lives miserable.
Let’s Understand the Purpose of Mosquitoes in Nature
The existence of mosquitoes is ecologically important because they play a vital part in natural processes from pollination to ant puke. The secret life of mosquitoes is both unconventional and ecologically important.
The purpose of mosquitoes in nature is generally overlooked. The elimination or extinction of mosquitoes from the ecosystem would affect everything. From pollination to biomass transfer to food webs.
Because mosquitoes are annoying, they get the hatred. But you better think about what you wish for. Every organism plays its own role in nature, so do the mosquitoes. So don’t think they are of no importance.
The Evolutionary Species of Mosquitoes
Mosquito belongs to the family of Culicidae. The word “Mosquito” is made by mosca and diminutive –ito. It is Spanish for “little fly”. There are more than 3500 species of mosquitoes all over the planet. The reproduction system is similar to some insects.
A mosquito has a slender segmented body. It consists of a pair of halteres, one pair of wings, three pairs of hair-like legs, and broad mouthparts. Its life cycle comprises of egg, larva, pupa, and finally the adult stage.
The females lay the eggs in stagnant waters. Once the larvae develop, they live in the water eating small particles, algae, and microbes. Once they pupate the adult flies off after emerging from the water surface.
The myth is that every species of mosquito is a bloodsucker, but it is not true. There are more than 90 species of mosquitoes that are harmless and are vegans. Other than that, 200 or so are the mosquito species that feed on humans. The rest of the species feed on lizards or birds or smaller mammals.
Understanding the Evolutionary Purpose of Mosquitoes
Many species of mosquitoes want nothing to do with biting humans. But only females of few species do so and that is to just develop their eggs. The basic food of a mosquito is plant-based sugar and its nutrients, the most common is floral nectar.
In the process of searching for nectar, mosquitoes pollinate the flowers they visit. Mosquito act as a generalist pollinator for some plant families. Mosquito pollination goes back to the 19th century. It locates flowers through odor, vision, and a variety of cues.
Plant sugar is one of the foods that mosquitoes consume. Some plant-sucking insects excrete a substance called honeydew. Now this honeydew is a food source for mosquitoes. Mosquito locates the honeydew by smelling the microbes living in honeydew.
Some mosquitoes have evolved and copied the technique that ants use for their own benefit. The technique includes making the insect regurgitate the consumed honeydew to share the meal.
One of the purposes of mosquitoes in nature is biomass transfer. When the adult mosquito leaves its aquatic habitat, it transfers its biomass to the terrestrial ecosystem.
A mosquito is a food to many birds, frogs, and insects. So, when eaten and excreted it turns into microbes, which are consumed by larvae into nutrients for other plants. This completes another important ecological function.
96 million pounds of mosquito biomass is estimated in Alaska alone. Because this nutrient cycle for plants is not studied, but the biomass implies that mosquitoes still play an important role.
Mosquito larvae can be found in almost every place where stagnant water is present. From the temporary snow-melt pool, freshwaters to lakes. They can even be found in the strangest places such as crab burrows.
In Brazilian Atlantic forests, some species lay the eggs in the water collected between the leaves of tropical plants. Other species of larvae attach themselves to the roots of aquatic plants to breathe.
One of the most phenomenal habitats that the larvae exist in, is the pitcher of carnivorous plant Sarracenia purpurea.
The pitcher is filled with decomposing insects and water. The decomposing insects act as food for the larvae and plants.
Disease Reduction, Ecosystem Balance
Mosquitoes are famous as the world’s deadliest animal and cause great suffering. If we maintain the balance of the ecosystem, keeping the role of mosquitoes in mind, we can reduce the disease burden.
It’s a fact that mosquitoes spread pathogens. But not all species are responsible for that. The only way leading to disease reduction is to target the specific species which spread pathogens. The other option is if the mosquitoes make themselves immune to pathogens because this will stop the spread of pathogens.
The study still continues, as to how to fight against the mosquito spreading diseases. All mosquito species are a tasty treat for birds, fishes, bats, frogs, but no animal solely feeds in them. So, does it mean that getting rid of all mosquitoes is good?
It’s not that simple. No one can know what would exactly happen or how will it affect the ecosystem? Presumably, it would open the door for other insects to take the place of mosquitoes in this chain.
Thus, it is not the solution to exterminate them because not all mosquitoes bite humans or spread diseases. There are some evolutionary purposes of mosquitoes in nature some of which we shared above in the article.
The purpose of mosquitoes in nature outweighs the harm they do. They are a delicate part of the ecosystem and helps in balancing it. Since we have only one Earth, we should treasure and protect it. Because every life counts and plays an important role in balancing the ecosystem.