Okanagan Nature Nut: What good are mosquitos?

Ugh!! Mosquitoes! Hordes of them, buzzing in your ear and biting incessantly are a maddening nuisance. Not to mention the devastating health impacts caused by malaria, Zika and West Nile viruses, and other pathogens they can spread.

We typically view mosquitoes as bloodsuckers that do nothing but make our lives miserable. They actually pierce not bite, and fortunately it’s only the females that seek our blood to nourish their eggs. However, mosquitoes do have important ecological functions in our ecosystem that are overlooked. It revolves around their interactions with plants and wildlife. There are about 3,500 mosquito species, and many do not bite humans or any other animal.

Mosquitoes are important pollinators and wildlife food. They pollinate plants while consuming the sugar and nutrients of plant nectar. In high elevations and in the Arctic, plants benefit from the vast hordes of nectar-hungry mosquitoes for pollination during their short growing season.

Mosquito pollination is far more common than we realize. It’s hard to see since mosquitoes usually visit flowers near or after dusk and human presence disturbs mosquitoes from nearby flowers. So, nutrient-cycling by mosquitoes for plant growth and other ecosystem functions remains unstudied.

And mosquitoes are important in the natural food chain. Mosquito larvae consume microorganisms such as algae and microbes that decompose decaying plant material. Baby fish (minnows) and adults gobble up wriggling larvae. Then birds, bats, frogs and other insects eat the remaining flying adult mosquitoes. Mosquitoes that are eaten and excreted then decompose, turning the microbes they consumed into nutrients for plants, completing another important ecological function.

Mosquito larvae survive in freshwater habitats from temporary snow-melt pools to ponds and lakes, wherever water collects such as in bird baths, discarded cans, bottles, tires and even the insides of pitcher plants and between the leaves of rainforest plants.

Indiscriminate mass elimination of mosquitoes would impact everything from pollination to natural food webs. In a world of collapsing ecosystems and declining pollinator populations, we need all of the help we can get. This includes acknowledging the secret lives of mosquitoes and more sophisticated mosquito control strategies that protect their ecosystem functions.

So, we can help by taking personal responsibility to avoid mosquitos by wearing loose clothing, using nontoxic insect repellents and avoiding scented soaps, shampoos, etc. when in mosquito infested areas. Also not overwatering lawns, screening rain barrels and tidying up or disposing of water-collecting garbage and junk around our homes and recreation areas.

Does this make you happier? Are you willing to help the mosquitoes?

Roseanne Van Ee enthusiastically shares her knowledge of the outdoors to help readers experience and enjoy nature. Follow her on Facebook.