Any amount of time spent outdoors will land even the most prepared with a couple bug bites. The summer brings with it mosquitos, black flies, and all the flies named after mammals with cloven-hooves (deer, horse, and moose). Annoying, painful, and itchy as they are, I would like to think that there is a point to the insects that bite so liberally. Because I am a realist, not an optimist, I decided to research the little buggers in the hope that I would get some answers as to why they bite and the importance of them.
Since most people are bothered by mosquitos and the like, there isn’t much flattering research out there. Most of it focuses on how to control populations without harming other organisms within the ecosystem, but I did scrounge up a few facts. Many people know it is only the females that bite to obtain blood. This blood is used for its protein to help grow and support eggs. I’m not going to go into the detail of how each type of flying annoyance gets to the blood supply, trust me seeing diagrams will not make you feel better about it. Males, on the other hand, sip on nectar rather than humans to get their nutrients. Because of this they do contribute to pollination, so that is one plus.
On top of that, there is always the fall back explanation that I always disliked in school: they are part of a complex ecosystem and food web. As unsatisfactory as that answer is, it’s the truth. Every organism plays its part in the food chain and these bloodsuckers are no different, they are eaten by a variety of bigger (not that being bigger is difficult) predators. As for mosquitos and black flies, the larvae also play a part in the aquatic food webs in the habitat. They eat microorganisms, detritus, and some species eat algae as well (Edwards and Meyer, 1987; Merritt et al. 1992). Fish and birds feed on the larvae, then larger organisms can prey on the fish and birds, and the sun rises and sets, and the earth goes around the sun and everything is all peachy.
Interestingly, one review found that though mosquitos have many functions, there are other organisms that do the same thing could take their place (Fang, 2010). I’d like to think this is true, but no one can really predict what would happen if the entire group of bloodsuckers was removed from their respective ecosystems. Basically, what I found is that no one likes these pests, we just aren’t sure the most effective and safe way to get rid of them. So my best advices is put some bug spray on and get out there and enjoy nature anyways!
Edwards, R.T., and Meyer, J.L., (1987) Bacteria as a Food Source for Black Fly Larvae in a Blackwater River. Journal of the North American Benthological Society 6, no. 4: 241-250.
Fang, J. (2010). Ecology: a world without mosquitoes. Nature News, 466(7305), 432-434.
Merritt, R.W., Dadd, R.H., & Walker, E.D. (1992). Feeding behavior, natural food, and nutritional relationships of larval mosquitoes. Annual review of entomology, 37(1), 349-374.
About Keva Pariyar
Keva is a 2017 Maine Conservation Corps Field Team Member. Massachusetts raised, over caffeinated, hiking and trail enthusiast. Lover of all things bunny or salamander.