Controlling mosquitoes without killing them might lead to a long-term mosquito solution

Published 12 October, 2012

Corresponding author: Marc Egeth
Email: marc.egeth@gmail.com

Philadelphia, PA. Everyone agrees that mosquito bites are annoying, and for much of the world, bites are deadly too, spreading malaria, yellow fever, West Nile virus, and other infections. However, most efforts to control mosquitoes by killing them have ultimately failed, in part because mosquitoes evolve resistance to poisons such as DDT.

Researchers Marc J. Egeth of Core Human Factors in Bala Cynwyd, PA and Temple University in Philadelphia, PA and Robert Kurzban of the University of Pennsylvania previously studied how we might control the flow of evolution in order to stop bacteria from becoming resistant to antibiotic drugs. Now, they have turned their attention to what is currently the most important non-human vector of disease worldwide: mosquitoes. In a new paper in the journal Evolutionary Psychology, Egeth and Kurzban propose that mosquito traps should be replaced with mosquito feeders.

Why would we want to feed, rather than kill, mosquitoes? For one thing, every time a mosquito eats from a feeder is one less time the mosquito eats from a person. For another, mosquitoes that eat from feeders will survive better than mosquitoes that continue eating from – and getting swatted by – people. So, mosquitoes that eat from feeders will do better than the mosquitoes that don’t. This means that, unlike with poison, the next generation of mosquitoes would be more likely, rather than less likely, to be susceptible to control.

Will giving free meals to mosquitoes lead to more mosquitoes? No, explain Egeth and Kurzban: “blood meals are often not the limiting factor for the size of mosquito populations; for example, a major factor … is the availability of aquatic breeding sites…there is always enough food (people) to go around, but the mosquito population size reflects the availability of standing water.” In other words, putting up mosquito feeders is like putting a better restaurant in the center of town: it won’t make people eat more overall, but they will eat at the new place and stop eating at the old place.

Egeth and Kurzban admit that they have proposed a new idea that could work, but that they did not actually build mosquito feeders and test whether mosquitoes exposed to them do indeed evolve to use them and bite people less. They are curious about what will happen when a research group picks up the idea for testing. “Artificial Natural Selection: Can Supplemental Feeding Domesticate Mosquitoes and Control Mosquito-Borne Diseases?” is published in Evolutionary Psychology and is available at http://www.epjournal.net/wp-content/uploads/EP10602610.pdf

Evolutionary Psychology - An open access peer-reviewed journal - ISSN 1474-7049 © Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young; individual articles © the author(s)
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