Good-for-Nothings

good for nothing mosquitoes

A while back, I wrote a piece explaining why the precepts of nonviolence and of having compassion for all living things did not extend to mosquitoes. Sort of.

Recently, the “Explainer” series at Slate.com did a fun video essay asking the question: Are Mosquitoes Good for Anything?

I consider this to be a metaphysical question, the answer to which is best belted-out, à la Edwin Starr:

Mossies! Huh! Good God y’all!
What are they good for?
Absolutely nothing!
Say it again…

The Slate video essay treats the subject as more of an ecology question, and judges the mosquito’s worth as miniscule (which, if true, makes my answer a mere rounding error). Slate asks, “What would happen if mosquitoes vanished from the face of the face of the earth one day?” The answer is presented quite unsatisfyingly, and without citation: “Scientists guess that nothing too terrible would happen to the mosquitoes ecosystems.” In other words, the few creatures that snack on mossies have plenty of other things to eat. Probably.

Sure, scientists on either end of the tree-hugger – better-living-through-chemistry continuum have been notoriously wrong in predicting ecosystem chain reactions. But be honest: isn’t Mosquito eradication one experiment you’d pay good money to see anyway?

DDT was our last-best-hope against the little bastards; at least until it was banned in 1972 with the advent of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in reaction to the newly emerging phenomenon of grass-roots environmental activism, in turn spurred by the publication of Rachel Carson’s in Silent Spring a decade earlier.

Critics of the worldwide DDT ban allege that malaria was nearly routed, and that the 100 million malarial deaths since then are a direct result of the ban. Neither the premise, nor the conclusion are quite right. Mossies are tough critters to eradicate, because their life cycle is short and they require so little specialized terrain in which to breed. A tiny amount of still water is all they need to unleash the next generation of blood-sucking menace. Even today, the reason public health officials aim to reduce mossy populations, rather than wipe them out, has nothing to do with unforeseen ecosystem shock, soft-heartedness, or soft-headedness. It has everything to do with the fact that the latter objective is Quixotic. So DDT was never going to rid us of Mosquitoes or the malaria they carry; but it sure would have helped. A lot.

Banning DDT as an agricultural pesticide seems to have made good sense, even in retrospect. Its widespread use had undeniable toxicity for birds and fish, with well-demonstrated broader ecosystem consequences. More germane to this discussion, by the elimination of DDT as a ubiquitous, cross-system pesticide and limiting DDT to “vector control” (i.e., specific species targeting), adaptive genetic mutation and selection of resistant mosquitoes will have been much slower. The problem was: following the ban, it wasn’t used to specifically target mosquito populations either.

Where does all this leave us? Scratching more than we should, and sleeping less. And I, for one, didn’t really love my bout of dengue fever in 2005.

So go on hating these worthless insect-punks with all your heart! Just don’t ever expect to see the end of them.

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4 Responses to “Good-for-Nothings”


  1. 1 therealpotato 25 August 2007 at 9:36 pm

    I actually just wrote an article about this question. It’ll be in the International Socialist Review in an issue or two, but let me know if you’d like me to email you a copy. I also recommend this blog for more on the topic.

    The whole ‘blaming Rachel Carson for malaria’ fad can be traced directly back to pesticide companies; I did some research, followed the money, and was a bit surprised to find that just about every such article was authored by someone who worked for or was connected to a think tank funded by the chemical industry.

    You’re right that using DDT for vector control is effective, and indeed DDT has not been banned for that purpose. The problem is that even when it’s legal only for vector control, people still use it for agriculture, resulting in population explosions of DDT-resistant mosquitoes.

    Carson, by the way, was never in favor of a blanket ban. What she actually said was that “control must be geared to realities, not to mythical situations, and that the methods employed must be such that they do not destroy us along with the insects.”

  2. 2 Another Tib from MInnesota 29 August 2007 at 7:40 am

    I am intrigued that there is another Tib From Minnesota, which I assume is the case because although I have wondered about why folks in sissy parts of the country complain about mosquitoes I’ve never made any statements about Mr Boeing.

  3. 3 mbjesq 29 August 2007 at 8:44 am

    Shit! There are two of you! Don’t let anyone else know. Markets might tumble and the mood of the nation, which has already taken a pretty severe beating the last seven years, might fall into irreversible funk. Perhaps we were all feeling a little too smug, knowing how well we were coping with one Tib from Minnestota. Two is probably more than the nation can bear. America has always taken the position that what we don’t know can’t hurt us. For the good of everyone, please consider changing your name and going into hiding.

    If this is simply an example of ill-chosen identity theft, and you are not really Tib from Minnesota, my advice would be different: according to basic internet protocols, when pretending to be someone you are not, you are supposed to choose a more cool persona, not a less cool one. Be an astronaut or a vegan hedge fund manager. Also, you are supposed to use your alter ego to try and get dates with people who, if they knew the truth, wouldn’t be caught dead with your self-loathing ass, not for writing blog comments about mosquitoes.

    As for whether Tib the First actually uttered the line about William Boeing: it is possible the attributed quotation emerged from a bit of “imaginative misrecollection.” I, of course, deny everything:

    All characters in this blog are entirely fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons or situations is purely coincidental. No animals were harmed in the writing of this blog.

  4. 4 Wilbur Tusler 29 August 2007 at 11:12 am

    I have the feeling that I am getting involved in the Great Mosquito wars – the war between the States revisited. I will give the award to Alaska when it comes to mosquitoes or bears, but people from Minnesota obtain a certain character, an ability to resist pain and ignore annoyance that stays with you for your entire life. California is not in the running for any distinction in the mosquito department. India may qualify on the basis of quantity but I doubt that they are in the competition in the Boeing department. On the other hand, the smaller they are the more of a challenge it is to commit mosquitoside. Tib I


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