Moustique Mystique

We’re now heading into Europe’s summer doldrums, when everyone seems to be away on vacation, to return only sometime in August. That’s certainly the case for France, which notoriously closes down every year for that entire month. Just enough time, then, to address a remaining philosophical question before packing up the family plus luggage in the car hitting the road. Audrey Dufour of the newspaper La Croix poses a piercing question: Is the mosquito [FR: le moustique] actually good for anything?

La Croix [Fr: The Cross] is well-known in France as the national paper of the Roman Catholic Church, so it is rather interesting that Ms. Dufour should take up this particular question. After all, the mosquito has long served as a key piece of evidence for those secular types ready to dispute the doctrine that the World/Universe is so wonderful and intricate that it must have been created by a divine intelligence. An argument that has spanned millenia and currently goes under the labels of “creationism” or “intelligent design,” it is often first attacked by bringing up the lowly mosquito: What sort of world-designer in His right divine mind would have thought to include that?

Human-mosquito interactions are inevitably unpleasant for the former across-the-board, whether looking down on a summer’s day to see an irksome insect drawing your blood, to hearing that bothersome whine around your head at night while trying to get to sleep. But that is ultimately small potatoes: what is truly serious about mosquitos is the ~400,000 people they kill each year by transmitting malaria, making them truly the world’s most deadly animal.

Right … Anything Good to Say?

That’s a pretty heavy weight on the debit side of the ledger. But Ms. Dufour gamely makes a good effort towards trying to find something positive to say. One word: Biodiversity, something Pope Francis has explicitly lauded in his speeches on ecology, and which here expresses the idea that the mosquito, no matter how odious, is an irreplaceable link in the great natural chain of being.

And it’s true, fish and amphibians eat mosquito larvae wholesale, while birds and other sorts of animals feast on the grown-up versions. Now, it’s not as if any of these rely solely on mosquitos for their nutrition; indeed, the article points out how it would be hard to prove that any would particularly be affected should mosquitos go extinct entirely.

Still, perhaps we can rely upon testimony from France’s EID Méditerranée, a government office charged with fighting the mosquito on France’s Mediterranean coast. Scientists working there took note not long ago when a particularly aggressive anti-mosquito campaign their organization undertook in the Camargue (basically where the Rhône river runs into the sea) resulted in a marked dip in the local sparrow population. So this is EID’s announced policy:

Our objective is only to maintain the [mosquitos’] nuisance at an acceptable level, and only for those communes [i.e. local governments] that ask us to intervene, not to exterminate all mosquitos.

By the way, mosquitos also play some role in the pollination of plants, like bees do – but do that far less than bees, and only for plants that are non-edible for humans. All told, then, from this piece a reasonable conclusion to the mosquito question might well be “Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em” – but the latter only just barely.

Town Flying Critter Ban

The mayor of Briollay, a town in deepest France (near Angers) has no doubt about mosquitos as far as his municipality is concerned: He recently announced a city ordinance forbidding outright any access to it by the pesky bugs.

As you might expect, there is less to this story than meets the eye with the headline. Briollay is routinely subject to waves of mosquitos after the regular summer flooding of near-by rivers; the locals understandably get tired of the bites and all the sleepless nights. (No mention of anyone coming down with malaria.) Apparently they’ve taken to bugging (beg pardon!) their mayor, André Marchand, to do something about the problem, which he did last year when he devoted municipal money towards the purchase of three mosquito traps, which he stationed at the town hall, at the primary school and at the secondary school.

That didn’t stop complaints from his constituents – and Briollay hardly has the budget to blanket itself with such traps – so this year he announced that new ordinance, more as an expression of his own frustration at being asked to perform natural miracles than out of any delusion that it would actually work. (Oh, and he also was confident most would get the joke, and his point. The concept of perhaps drawing some press-attention to his otherwise obscure town stuck in the French countryside must have also crossed his mind.)

Instead, it’s those traps that seem to be performing rather well. “Now things are good,” Marchand reports, “we have very few mosquitos. Many of them are dead. But it wasn’t the ordinance that kept them from coming to us. We’ll again be inundated with mosquitos every time we have those floods.”

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