Why are mosquitoes important?

Despite being a nuisance, mosquitoes are a key part of the food chain

A lot of people ask this question, particularly when talking about the ‘circle of life’ and the fine balance of ecosystems. What part do mosquitoes have to play in this, and would it really matter if they didn’t exist? It’s easy to see why people don’t think of mosquitoes too favourably – at best, their persistence and bloodthirsty behaviour is a nuisance, and at worst, it spreads deadly diseases.

The oldest mosquito fossil dates back to 200 million years ago. Mosquitoes have been around much longer than man, making the small insects much more important than you’d first think. All animals have evolved to fill an ecological niche, and mosquitoes are no different.

In their larval stage, mosquitoes are aquatic insects that strain unicellular algae from the water. The larvae in turn make for a nutrient-dense snack for other aquatic animals.

Once the larvae get their wings and become flying insects, they act as a really important food source for many other animals such as birds and bats. Aside from ecological uses, we also have medical advances to thank mosquitoes for. Near-painless hypodermic needles have been modelled on a mosquito’s proboscis.

 

Photograph: Katja Schulz

 

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Image from www.flickr.com/photos/stuutje