Author: Timothy C. Winegard
They are our apex predator, the deadliest hunters of human beings on the planet.
It has been one of the most aggravating sounds on earth for more than 100 million years — the humming buzz of a mosquito.
She gently lands on your ankle and inserts two serrated mandible cutting blades and saws into your skin, while two other retractors open a passage for the proboscis. With this straw she sucks your blood, while a sixth needle pumps in saliva that contains an anticoagulant that prevents that blood from clotting. This shortens her feeding time, lessening the likelihood that you splat her across your ankle.
The female mosquito needs your blood to grow her eggs. Please don’t feel singled out. She bites everyone. There is no truth to the myths that mosquitoes prefer women over men or blondes and redheads over those with darker hair. She does, however, play favorites. Type O blood seems to be the vintage of choice. Stinky feet emit a bacterium that woos famished females, as do perfumes. As a parting gift, she leaves behind an itchy bump (an allergic reaction to her saliva) and potentially something far worse: infection with one of several deadly diseases, including malaria, Zika, West Nile, dengue and yellow fever.
Mosquitoes are our apex predator, the deadliest hunter of human beings on the planet. A swarming army of 100 trillion or more mosquitoes patrol nearly every inch of the globe, killing about 700,000 people annually. Researchers suggest that mosquitoes may have killed nearly half of the 108 billion humans who have ever lived across our 200,000-year or more existence.
Flying solo, the mosquito does not directly harm anyone. It is the diseases she transmits that cause an endless barrage of death. Yet without her, these pathogens could not be vectored to humans. Without her, human history would be completely unrecognizable.
The mosquito and her diseases have accompanied traders, travelers, soldiers and settlers (and their captive African slaves) around the world and have been far more lethal than any manufactured weapons or inventions.
Malarious mosquitoes patrolling the Pontine Marshes facilitated both the rise and the fall of the Roman Empire. Initially shielding the Eternal City from the Visigoths, Huns and Vandals, they eventually pointed their proboscises inward on Rome itself. Mosquitoes defended the Holy Land during the Crusades by laying waste to armies of cross-adorned Christian soldiers. By infecting European soldiers with malaria and yellow fever, they reinforced numerous successful rebellions in the Americas during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, including the British surrender at Yorktown during the American Revolution.
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