It seems like a pleasant fantasy to wake up one day in a world without mosquitos. No nightly visitors through an open window, nobody crashing your BBQs, and no more red itchy bumps. We’re left wondering, “what would happen if mosquitos went extinct?”
These pests are also carriers of disease, which makes them more than a mere inconvenience and actually dangerous. Some of the illnesses caused by the pathogens they bear include the West Nile virus, dengue fever, malaria, Zika virus, and yellow fever.
Mosquitos are responsible for more diseases on this planet than any other animal, and over half the world is at risk of being bitten by a mosquito this very second. Other animals and livestock are not immune to the risks and annoyances of mosquitos.
Hence the desire for a mosquito-free world is certainly understandable in light of the risks these insects pose.
What would happen if mosquitos went extinct?
What Would Happen if Mosquitos Went Extinct?
If mosquitos went extinct, the entire ecosystem would be affected but will not collapse. Mosquitos are not a keystone species in any habitat.
Whether their extinction would be a cataclysmic event or not is up for debate. Some suggest that mosquitos aren’t important enough to save, and there have been extensive studies into methods of mosquito genocide.
Others warn that there will be untold consequences since mosquitos haven’t been studied extensively.
Extinction – Niches Will Be Filled by Non-Mosquitos
Some suggest that a mosquito extinction and the subsequent empty niche wouldn’t be a problem. They think that the niche will quickly be filled by other species in existence, both from a predator and prey standpoint.
The food chain for some fish will be interrupted if mosquitos disappear. There are even specialized predators like the mosquitofish that will likely go extinct in the absence of mosquitos, even though they use other food sources and might adapt. Other fish will have to find alternative food sources, which can have a cascade effect across food chains and in all connected habitats.
Terrestrial animals won’t fare as badly as fish in the absence of mosquitos because their prey is more varied than the average fish. Animals like lizards, frogs, birds, and salamanders will eat other insects in response to the absence of mosquitos.
To reiterate, there will be a proliferation of consumable insect species to fill the void left behind by mosquito extinction. While they do act as pollinators, again, it’s believed the void left behind by their absence will be easily filled by other extant pollinators like honey bees.
On the flip side of what would happen if mosquitoes went extinct, what if the species that stepped into the vacuum created by mosquitos was far more menacing than their predecessors? Perhaps humankind had better be careful what it wishes for – however tempting the thought of a mosquito-free world might be.
Extinction – Disease Transmission via Mosquitos
Some countries are overwhelmed by mosquito-borne diseases, and the eradication of mosquitos would be a game-changer. What would happen if mosquitoes went extinct in these countries would be the unburdening from the stress of illness, prevention, and treatment costs. Malaria alone affects over 246 million people per year, with about 1 million of those people dying.
Mosquitos don’t just spread disease because they bite multiple victims in a row. The disease is passed on through their saliva.
A virus that a mosquito consumes has to be able to infect its midgut; otherwise, it’ll just be digested and removed from the body. If a mosquito’s midgut does get infected, the infection progresses until it contaminates saliva.
Many mosquitos die from the illness before the disease takes hold. It is only diseased mosquito saliva that then spreads diseases to other hosts outside of the original infected host.
Mosquito Extinction and the Arctic
The only area of the world that would be negatively impacted by the extinction of mosquitos is the Arctic. There, mosquitos lay their eggs while it’s warm, and the eggs survive winter. The next year they hatch, and in less than a month, the eggs are full-blown mosquitos.
They breed in such great amounts in the Arctic that they form thick clouds. These clouds prove dangerous to animals like caribou, who can be asphyxiated by the sheer amount of pests.
Lots of migratory birds that summer in the Arctic rely on this mass of mosquitos as a food source. If the mosquito clouds dissipate, so will bird species right along with it. However, the mosquito niche in the Arctic might be filled with local flies called midges, which are better for the birds anyway.
How Long Have Mosquitos Existed?
Mosquitos have existed on this planet for more than 100 million years.
That’s a long enough period to allow them to co-evolve with the ecosystems they live in. They’ve annoyed so many generations of animals and their ancestors that they’re partially responsible for the defense mechanisms that animals have against insects.
How Many Types of Mosquitos Are There?
There are over 3,500 different types of mosquitos. Only 200 or so choose humans as their primary host.
Aedes, culex, and anopheles mosquitos are the main vectors for diseases like yellow fever and malaria. This doesn’t mean that others aren’t vectors for diseases. Any mosquito that feeds on blood is a potential disease spreader.
The elephant mosquito is a large mosquito that eats the larvae of smaller mosquitos. Not all mosquitos are annoying like the mosquitos that plague us. If we can spare the elephant mosquito in the great mosquito elimination, we should.
Are Mosquitos Pollinators?
No other plants rely on mosquitos alone, which means other insects will fill their place in their absence.
Even the mosquitos that rely on animal blood aren’t complete vampires. Just females need blood at certain times, while males almost always feed solely on nectar.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/panom
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