Why don't we just get rid of mosquitoes altogether?

With peak biting season for mosquitoes around the corner, many of us might be tempted to wonder why don't we just get rid of the darn things altogether. An expert explains why that might not be such a good idea.

Tempting though the idea may be, it would do away with an important food source for other animals

The peak biting season for mosquitoes begins around the third week of June. (Shutterstock)

With peak biting season for mosquitoes just around the corner, many of us might be tempted to wonder why don't we just get rid of the darn things altogether.

Mosquitoes, after all, are attracted to many of the same things that attract humans during the summer months. 

"If you're outside having a barbecue with a bunch of friends, that's just a welcome sign for mosquitoes," said Chris Cloutier, a naturalist at the Morgan Aboretum.  

"There's warmth from us, from the barbecue and there is also a lot of carbon dioxide being produced from the burning of propane ... so that's going to draw in a lot of mosquitoes as well." 

Important to food webs

Cloutier, who has collected close to 200,000 mosquito specimens as part of his ongoing graduate research at McGill University, estimates that biting season is generally at its worst around Montreal from the third week of June to the second week of July. 

He points out that there is no real technical obstacle to wiping out mosquito populations, given the availability of powerful chemicals and species that can be genetically modified to be sterile.

"We've got a lot of tools in our toolbox," Cloutier told CBC's All in a Weekend. "I think the biggest obstacle with eradicating them all is that we just don't know what's going to happen if we do." 

The mosquitoes found in Quebec are generally slow-moving, making them an easy food source for a wide number of animals, especially birds such as swallows, chimney swifts and nighthawks.

Even the larvae of mosquitoes are a food source for amphibians and other insects.

"They are contributing a lot to food webs," he said.

Safe alternative 

There are, however, environmentally friendly ways of controlling mosquito populations. In recent years, sprayers in Quebec have been using Bacillus thuringiensis, or BT. 

It's a bacteria that is specific to mosquitoes, meaning in can be introduced into waterways where their larvae are found without disrupting other creatures in the habitat. 

"It's not even close to the same spectrum as DDT and other chemicals," Cloutier said. "It's an organic pesticide." 

The Morgan Arboretum's Chris Cloutier has been collecting mosquitoes for the last two years to study their behavioral patterns. With 95 different species in the province, the greater Montreal area is seeing an increase the number of species 12:47