Recently, I’ve been learning a lot about mosquitoes and the viruses they transmit. Dr. Dawn Wesson of Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine was gracious enough to visit Nicholls State University and share her expertise on this subject. Her research interests include (but are definitely not limited to) ecology of arbovirus transmission, host-pathogen coevolution, development of novel vector control strategies/tools, and the effect of arbovirus infection on human pregnancy outcomes. Her in-depth understanding of arbovirus transmission and control is helping in development of policies in this field, and THAT is something we should all be excited about (who wants more mosquitoes and viruses?). The following information is my interpretation of only a teeny, tiny fraction of the information bank Dr. Wesson had to share. Enjoy.
The Southern House Mosquito (Culex quinquefasciatus) literally sucks human blood to nurture unborn disease-vectors developing within its body. As blood sucking takes place, this mosquito is also simultaneously infecting its human host with potential diseases it harbors. If this does not scream zombie insect, you haven’t seen enough movies in your lifetime.
Culex quinquefasciatus prefers to reside in polluted container water and will actively seek these environments for deposition of its unborn. Such environments include wheelbarrows, bird baths, abandoned pools, pots, buckets, ditches, jars, and any other container that might hold standing water. Here’s the gruesome part – the mosquito is able to develop resistance to pollutants by digesting them, and can pass these genes onto multiple batches of the unborn. Basically, the zombie mosquito can perfect its unborn to survive more and more polluted areas, and could eventually be virtually indestructible.
Now, most insecticides are used in the smallest dosages that will allow termination of these zombie pests. This is nice because we like to breathe air, not chemicals. However, there is one heinous problem with this approach. Using a small amount of insecticide on an adapting mosquito population is like shooting a single bullet at a group of zombies. It might take out one or two of the weaker “crawlers”, but it will leave the stronger, faster “runner” zombies to devour your brains. These runners will survive, adapt to your strategy, and move on to feed on the blood of more hosts. This approach is sure to kill few and arm many, ultimately leading to total apocalypse.
On the other hand, suppose you use a large dosage of insecticide on your adapting zombie mosquitoes. This would be like unloading your automatic machine gun/grenade launcher/bazooka on an approaching group of the undead. Instead of only terminating “crawlers”, you have now decimated most of the “runner” population as well (if your aim is worth anything), leaving fewer individuals available for consequential adaptations to survival. Yay. You get to keep your brains.
Basically, if you love a good life challenge and would like to harbor St. Louis encephalitis or West Nile virus in your blood, I suggest keeping multiple open containers strewn about your property. If you are like me and prefer to challenge yourself with things that don’t threaten your life (such as folding laundry or not hitting your elbow on every door/desk in the room), I propose the following:
- Eliminate all standing water outside of your home. This includes removal or frequent cleaning of ANYthing that may collect precipitation (tires, pet bowls, etc).
- If you spray, make sure you’re using the right dosage and spraying at the right time. Some mosquito life cycle forms are pretty dang resistant to insecticides. Make sure you are eliminating your mini airborne zombies and not arming them.
- If all else fails, introduce Toxorhynchites rutilus, AKA the “Cannibal Mosquito”. The larvae of this giant airborne zombie feeds on the larvae of other mosquitoes and will even resort to cannibalism if other sources are unavailable (Collins and Blackwell 2000). This guy will surely scare the crap out of your dog (and lets be real, you’ll run from a few), but will unforgivably haunt other zombies in your yard. Disclaimer: Please do not try to introduce giant cannibal mosquitoes to your local neighborhood by yourself. These biological control agents do not feed on human blood as mature adults, but if they catch on to our zombie survival program, they could turn on us and initiate their own apocalypse.
Collins, E., and A. Blackwell. 2000. The biology of Toxorhynchites mosquitoes and their potential as biocontrol agents. BioControl 21: 105-116.