I remember our first few days of living in Athens, GA. We had just moved there from Charlottesville, Virginia, so I could take a post-doctoral position at the University of Georgia. My oldest daughter had just turned three. We were busy unpacking so we sent her out to play on the new swing set in the backyard.
A few minutes later she already wanted to come inside—and I could understand why. The poor kid’s legs were covered with mosquito bites.
Times like these prompt questions like, “Why would God create mosquitoes?”
The poignancy of this question extends beyond the discomfort of a small child. Mosquitoes cause a significant amount of very real human suffering. The mosquito (Anopheles) that harbors the malaria parasite causes 247 million people a year to contract the disease, of which about 1 million die. Mosquitoes also spread yellow fever, dengue fever, Rift Valley fever, and the West Nile virus.
Why would God create mosquitoes, indeed?
The misery caused by mosquitoes has lead to eradication efforts. If this work is successful and these pests are completely eliminated, what will happen? Recently, a writer for Nature posed that very question to scientists who study mosquito biology and their ecological role.1 Would the total eradication of mosquitoes have a deleterious impact on ecosystems? If not, then one would be justified in viewing these creatures as a true nuisance, incompatible with the work of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good Creator. But if they would be missed, then it means that mosquitoes are indeed part of God’s good creation.
As it turns out, mosquitoes do play an important role in a variety of ecosystems. For example, each year when the snow melts in the Arctic tundra, mosquitoes hatch from their eggs and make up a significant part of the biomass. Some scientists believe these insects serve as an important food source for migratory birds. Mosquitoes even impact the migratory routes of caribou. As caribou move through the Arctic, they take certain routes specifically to avoid mosquito swarms. These migratory routes then impact plant distribution, dictate the feeding behavior of wolves, etc.
In aquatic environments mosquito larvae serve as a food source for fish. In other habitats, spiders, salamanders, frogs, reptiles, and other insects consume mosquitoes. Mosquitoes themselves feed on decaying leaves, organic debris, and microbes. They serve as pollinators as well. Around 3,500 known species of mosquitoes occupy every continent and every conceivable habitat. Yet, only around 200 of these species will annoy humans and even fewer will bite.
So, it looks like mosquitoes do serve a function. As such, they can be understood as part of God’s good design.
But what would happen if these creatures were eradicated completely? It seems that mosquito experts are divided on whether or not their loss would have a dramatic effect on most ecosystems. According to some ecologists, the loss of mosquitoes would harm most ecosystems. Others believe that other organisms would step in and assume mosquitoes’ role as food sources, detrivores, and pollinators. Yet even if mosquitoes can be eliminated without consequence, it doesn’t exclude them from God’s good design. If they were never created, it appears that God still would have to make something like them.
The fact that other organisms could possibly assume the role of mosquitoes within ecosystems speaks of the natural order’s elegant design. It appears that robustness has been built into ecosystems; if a key species disappears other organisms can take its place and buffer the ecosystem from potential damage.
Most scientists agree that—compared to other organisms—mosquitoes are unusually efficient at sucking blood from one individual in the population and then transferring the blood to another individual. This makes mosquitoes adept at spreading pathogenic microbes. As a consequence, if mosquitoes were eliminated, the spread of certain diseases would halt—but there is a downside to such an outcome. While the population might become healthier, its numbers would swell and overpopulation would eventually become a concern. Overpopulation then leads to the loss of health because of limited resources and, thus, leads back to suffering.
Still—revenge is sweet.
- Janet Fang, “A World without Mosquitoes,” Nature 466 (2010): 432–34.