What Are Mosquitoes Good For?
Originally posted at my blog at https://rebeccalexa.com/what-are-mosquitoes-good-for/
Now that the weather has cooled down over much of the United States, insects have died back or gone into hibernation for the winter. So you may be tempted to be glad that the mosquitoes have disappeared for the time being. Maybe you even wish they wouldn’t come back next year! After all, they’re just mosquitoes, which annoy us and spread diseases, right? What are mosquitoes good for, anyway?
Much to the surprise of a lot of people, they actually have some pretty important ecological functions, and your local ecosystem would likely suffer if the mosquitoes were all exterminated. So today, I am going to be a mosquito apologist.
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What Are Mosquitoes Good For? Food!
You may have seen hundreds or even thousands of mosquito larvae swimming in a pond or other fresh water. Perhaps you thought every single one of them came to find you after they became adults! They certainly are prolific; some species can lay as many as 300 eggs at once.
But this isn’t just because they want to have more young to annoy you, generation after generation. Rather, it’s because a lot of mosquitoes end up eaten before they even get a chance to reproduce. As eggs and larvae, they’re food for fish, amphibians, and aquatic insects and other arthropods. Once they take to the wing, birds and bats become major predators, as do adult dragonflies and other winged insects, plus spiders that catch them in their webs. While a single bat might not actually eat 1000 mosquitoes in a night, all those various predators do take a significant chunk out of the mosquito population.
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Platanthera obtusata is just one of many orchids that rely on mosquitoes for pollination.
What Are Mosquitoes Good For? Pollination!
Believe it or not, most mosquitoes aren’t out for your blood! The majority of mosquito species are entirely vegetarian; it’s only a few in which the females seek out blood to help produce eggs. Most mosquitoes drink nectar or plant sap, and in the pursuit of the former they play a vital role in pollinating the flowers they visit. Goldenrod and orchids are just two examples of groups of plants pollinated by mosquitoes. And while mosquitoes might drive Alaskans buggy, they are vital for pollination during the short Arctic summer.
What Are Mosquitoes Good For? Keeping Things in Check!
Mosquito larvae spend anywhere from a few days to a few weeks in the water where they hatched. They feed on a variety of bacteria, algae, and other microorganisms. Because they have a lot of growing to do, and need to prepare for their final molt to adult form, they have to eat a lot! That means they help keep their prey species’ populations in check. An overgrowth of algae, for example, can reduce the amount of sunlight that submerged plants have access to, and as the algae dies it increases the amount of nitrogen in the water. By constantly grazing on algae, mosquito larvae are helping to prevent these sorts of ecological imbalances.
What If We Made Mosquitoes Go Extinct?
So what are mosquitoes good for? Quite a lot, apparently! However, there’s no denying some species have also caused us a lot of grief. There have been calls to exterminate all mosquitoes, or at least every species that could ostensibly cause us problems through disease transmission. And to be sure, I don’t want to see people dying of malaria or West Nile virus, especially as these diseases often hit disadvantaged populations harder, with fewer resources for treatment. But it’s something where we need to weigh the consequences carefully.
What would happen if there were suddenly no more mosquitoes? Sure, the animals that prey on them could potentially find other sorts of food, but there would be an upset in the food web as the predators put more pressure on remaining prey species, which could lead to some of those species become locally endangered or even extirpated. Or the predators might drop in number as they failed to find enough food. Either way, getting rid of all the mosquitoes would have a negative impact on the food web.
Finally, and possibly most importantly–we may not fully understand the ecological roles mosquitoes have. As I wrote recently, ecosystems are incredibly complex networks of relationships among thousands of species, and for centuries we have been eradicating entire species without any thought as to what long-term effects their loss might have on their native ecosystems.
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However, that brings up another point: the fact that there are invasive mosquitoes. Invasive species wreak havoc on ecosystems they’re introduced to, and it just so happens that one of the most notorious disease-spreading mosquitoes, Aedes aegypti, is invasive across much of the tropics, as well as subtropical and temperate areas worldwide. Spread through the slave trade, this mosquito is a prime vector for yellow fever, dengue fever, Zika, and several other pathogenic diseases affecting humans. Its cousin, Aedes albopictus, is also a disease vector and is more cold-hardy, meaning it could spread even further.
What’s the answer? Well, historically people just drained wetlands, much to the devastation of the native ecosystems there. More recently, the widespread and indiscriminate use of pesticides like DDT also knocked back mosquito populations (at least temporarily), but also killed off many other animals both directly and indirectly, to include nearly wiping out multiple raptor species due to eggshell thinning. Moreover, mosquitoes have developed resistance to pesticides, making them a less useful tool overall.
More recent innovations to control specific invasive mosquitoes hold some promise. A. aegypti, for example, has been genetically modified in labs to create a strain known as OX513A. Not only do the offspring die before they can reproduce, even if a OX513A breeds with a wild mosquito, but the offspring also apparently lack resistance to some pesticides. Biological control using Wolbachia bacteria inhibits A. aegypti‘s reproduction, and also makes them unable to carry certain diseases such as Zika and dengue fever.
So it would appear that the fight to control invasive species also has the bonus effect of stopping the mosquitoes most likely to give the rest a bad name.
Did you enjoy this post? Consider taking one of my online foraging and natural history classes, checking out my other articles, or picking up a paperback or ebook I’ve written! You can even buy me a coffee here!
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cypherdecypher · 2 days
Animal of the Day!
American Marten (Martes americana)
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(Photo in public domain)
Conservation Status- Least Concern
Habitat- Canada; Northern United States
Size (Weight/Length)- 1.4 kg; 71 cm
Diet- Small mammals; Birds; Fruits
Cool Facts- The American marten, also called the pine marten, is a small but essential carnivore to the North American wilderness. Being nocturnal in the winter and diurnal in the summer, American martens travel a relatively small territory and often stick to the trees to avoid much larger predators such as coyotes and bears. Their main prey source are voles and mice, making them essential towards keeping rodent populations from exploding. In addition, American martens help to spread wild blueberry and huckleberry seeds by eating the fruits and well… you know. Females give birth to smaller litters in the spring in hollow logs and gaps in boulder formations. The kits stay with their mother throughout the summer as she teaches them to hunt but they often split once the leaves start falling.
Rating- 11/10 (Just looing for a cuddle.)
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As extinctions of animals and plants accelerate around the globe, Native American tribes with limited funding are trying to reestablish imperiled species and restore their habitats — measures that parallel growing calls to “rewild” places by reviving degraded natural systems.
But the direct relationship that Native Americans perceive between people and wildlife differentiates their approach from Western conservationists, who often emphasize “management” of habitat and wildlife that humans have dominion over, said Julie Thorstenson, executive director of the Native American Fish & Wildlife Society.
“Western science looks at humans as kind of external managers of the land and of the ecosystem,” she said. “Indigenous people see themselves as part of it.”
The Nakoda and Aaniiih people have struggled to restore their land to a wilder state. Plague periodically wipes out ferret populations, and half the foxes released so far may have died or fled.
But tribal members say they’re committed to rebuilding native species with deep cultural significance to restore balance between humans and the natural world. Tribal elders speak nostalgically of the long-gone Swift Fox Society, which prized the secretive, rarely seen animals and used their pelts and tails to adorn hair braids and costumes. They call the foxes and ferrets their “relatives.”
“It’s like having your family back,” said Mike Fox, former director of the Fort Belknap wildlife program. “We have a pretty darn good spot on the Northern Plains to bring these animals back and just about complete the circle of animals that were originally here.”
Read more
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Like the saltwater tarpon, the pirarucu is an air-breathing fish that must rise to the surface every 15 minutes or so to gulp oxygen. That makes it easier to locate and catch pirarucu — also known as arapaima or paiche — that can grow to be 10-feet long, weigh up to 450 pounds and are prized for their meat.
Their constant surfacing also makes it easier for poachers. In fact, widespread illegal fishing caused the pirarucu to nearly disappear from some parts of the Amazon. But thanks to sustainable fishing programs that combine education with strict rules and quotas, it's now making a comeback.
"The pirarucu population has recovered," says Ana Claudia Torres, who runs the sustainable fishing program for the Mamirauá Institute, which manages a vast nature reserve covering 4,300 square miles of jungle in northern Brazil.
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced $800 million in funding over seven years for large Indigenous-led conservation projects covering almost a million square kilometres of land.
"Communities have been clear — safeguarding lands and waters will help build a strong future for generations to come," Trudeau said Wednesday. "As a government, our role is to listen and support that vision."
The prime minister made the announcement in Montréal, which is hosting the 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, also known as COP15.
The four projects in Ontario, Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and British Columbia that will be funded starting next year are meant to conserve land and protect coastal and inland waterways.
Continue Reading.
Tagging: @politicsofcanada
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Much of the land set aside for protection is occupied by indigenous people who may be excluded or displaced. Mobile pastoral farmers are one such group. Millions of pastoralists graze livestock across a variety of environments worldwide.
Case studies from around the world indicate that including pastoral communities in conservation initiatives can help to address the tensions that emerge around protected areas, while improving biodiversity.
The mobile grazing of livestock can be essential for maintaining the biodiversity of rangelands. Migrating livestock disperse seeds over large distances and fertilise soils with their dung and urine, encouraging plant growth. Light grazing and trampling of soil and grass can also allow areas of the ecosystem to regenerate following periods of intensive use.
Mobile pastoralism has long been an important component of ecological health in Spanish grasslands. The movement of livestock along rural routes called drove roads allow seeds to be dispersed over large distances in the fleeces and hooves of sheep. This enhances biodiversity and the connections between ecologically important areas.
In the same way, transfrontier parks – which are ecologically protected areas that span across country boundaries – allow for flexible use of grazing landscapes through movement. In southern Africa, the removal of fences allows both livestock and wildlife such as elephants and wildebeest to migrate across large areas and diverse environments.
The ecology of pastoral lands has long been misunderstood. Global assessments of the impact of livestock production often paint all livestock systems as the enemy of nature. The failure to differentiate between these systems has resulted in policymakers accusing pastoralists of contributing to environmental degradation.
Conservation interventions have been used as an excuse to evict pastoralists from their lands. Rangelands have been squeezed to make way for other projects as part of a wider pattern of “green grabbing” in recent years. Pastoral rangelands have been repurposed for environmental investments including forestry projects, carbon offsetting schemes, biofuel production and ecotourism.
But rangelands are often unsuitable for the tree-planting schemes proposed by those who advocate for the rewilding of pastoral areas. Pastoral practices challenge the conservation idea that the best kind of ecosystem is wild and heavily protected. As “open ecosystems”, the natural state of rangelands is not closed canopy forests but a mix of grass and trees maintained by fire and grazing.
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kafkasapartment · 1 day
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Intimate, 2014. Christian Ghammachi. Giclee print on Hahnemühlep photo rag
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noaasanctuaries · 4 hours
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For nine years, NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries has recognized outstanding achievement by presenting the Sea to Shining Sea Award for Excellence in Interpretation and Education. The award recognizes success in advancing ocean and climate literacy and conservation through national marine sanctuaries. It also recognizes innovation and creative solutions to raising public awareness and appreciation of the National Marine Sanctuary System.
This year, the award is presented to Justin Umholtz, Coral Check-Up Lesson Series and Climate Change Resilience Workshop. Congratulations Justin!
Learn more about his work:
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reasonsforhope · 2 days
“Two plants that live on California’s Channel Islands and nowhere else on earth have reached recovery thanks to Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections.
The Santa Cruz Island dudleya and island bedstraw are now recommended for delisting after the Fish and Wildlife Service restored their population to flourishing levels with the help of partners like the Nature Conservancy.
The ESA is the most successful conservation legislation of any nation, preventing 99% all species listed since 1973—around 291—from going extinct.
In 1997, the Service determined 13 plants on California’s northern Channel Islands needed ESA protections as a result of decades of habitat loss and alteration due to sheep grazing and soil loss caused by rooting of non-native feral pigs.
By 2000, sheep grazing ended, and by 2006, all non-native feral pigs were removed from the islands. In 2000, the Service worked with botanists and land managers to develop a recovery plan to guide recovery efforts for the imperiled plants.
Island bedstraw (Galium buxifolium) is a long-lived woody shrub with small flowers that lives on coastal bluffs, steep rocky slopes, sea-cliffs, and occasionally pine forests, on Santa Cruz and San Miguel islands. At the time of listing, population estimates were in the hundreds. Helicopter surveys from 2017 estimate more than 15,000 individual plants now occur on the islands...
“The recovery of these island plants is the result of long-term cooperation and conservation efforts by scientists and land managers,” said Paul Souza, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Southwest Region. “That’s what the ESA can bring to the table – attention, resources, and incentive for sustained conservation work that produces meaningful results.”” -via Good News Network, 12/6/22
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headspace-hotel · 1 month
I want to make people see how much has been taken away from them.
Did you know that there are dozens of species of fireflies, and some of them light up with a blue glow? Did you know about the moths? There are thousands of them, bright pink and raspberry orange and checkerboard and emerald. They are called things like Black-Etched Prominent, Purple Fairy, Pink-Legged Tiger, Small Mossy Glyph and Black-Bordered Lemon.
Did you know that there are moths that feed on lichens? Did you know about the blue and green bees? The rainbow-colored dogbane beetles? Your streams are supposed to teem with newts, salamanders, crawdads, frogs, and fishes. I want to take you by the hand and show you an animal you've never seen before, and say, "This exists! It's real! It's alive!"
There are secret wildflowers that no website will show you and that no list entitled "native species to attract butterflies!" will name. Every day I'm at work I see a new plant I didn't know existed.
The purple coneflowers and prairie blazing star are a tidepool, a puddle, and there is an ocean out there. There are wildflowers that only grow in a few specific counties in a single state in the United States, there are plants that are evolved specifically to live underneath the drip line of a dolomite cliff or on the border of a glade of exposed limestone bedrock. Did you know that different species of moss grow on the sides of a boulder vs. on top of it?
There are obscure trees you might have never seen—Sourwood, Yellowwood, Overcup Oak, Ninebark, Mountain Stewartia, Striped Maple, American Hophornbeam, Rusty Blackhaw, Kentucky Coffeetree. There are edible fruits you've never even heard of.
And it is so scary and sad that so many people live and work in environments where most of these wondrous living things have been locally extirpated.
There are vast tracts of suburb and town and city and barren pasture where a person could plausibly never learn of the existence of the vast majority of their native plants and animals, where a person might never imagine just how many there are, because they've only ever been exposed to the tiny handful of living things that can survive in a suburb and they have no reason to extrapolate that there are ten thousand more that no one is talking about.
It's like being a fish that has lived its whole life in a bucket, with no way of imagining the ocean. The insects in your field guide are a fraction of those that exist, of all the native plants to your area only a handful can be bought in a nursery.
Welcome to the Earth! It's beautiful! It's full of life! More things are real and beautiful and alive than a single person could imagine!!!
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nonbinarystarcomics · 3 months
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Sept. 8th 2022 was a great day
image descriptions in alt text
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violetsandshrikes · 1 year
washington zoo has had it's first armadillo (southern three-banded) birth in 116 years and the baby is so so so so so precious i could cry
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congratulations to new armadillo parents Vespa and Scooter!!! (x)(x)
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notpikaman · 8 hours
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cypherdecypher · 18 hours
Animal of the Day!
Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus)
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(Photo by Jorge Garcia)
Conservation Status- Vulnerable
Habitat- Andes Mountains
Size (Weight/Length)- 15 kg; 1.3 m; 3 m wingspan
Diet- Carion
Cool Facts- Combining their weight and wingspan, the Andean condor is the world’s largest flying bird. Eating almost exclusively carrion, their stomach acid is strong enough to dissolve bones and diseases alike. Due to their massive size, these condors have a difficult time getting off the ground. Using strong winds, they launch themselves into the air and glide on currents. Using their 3 meter long wings, Andean condors only have to flap their wings once every half hour to stay aloft. Adult Andean condors are almost always found as a pair with their lifelong mate, laying only one egg every few years. In 1970, the Andean condor was placed into a breeding program due to  poisoning and persecution by farmers. Almost 10 years before the reintroduction of the California condor, the Andean condor spread their wings and were brought back into the native habitat where they still fly strong.
Rating- 13/10 (I have a soft spot for vultures of all kinds.)
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todaysbird · 4 months
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botanyshitposts · 1 month
ok this sounds insane but in 2018 i went to a few carnivorous plant talks at the botany conference in minnesota. i got caught up in conversation with one of the guys there who was a huge nepenthes guy who told me a story about another collector in the pacific northwest who'd been buying poached plants, like a huge amount, and eventually got staked out by the fish and wildlife service and arrested and had all his plants seized and went to prison for it. idk if i ever talked about this on this blog before-- i know i liveblogged a lot from that conference but cant remember what all i posted-- but ive avoided talking about it since then because i was never able to find like, news articles or anything covering it, but behold.... we now have proof it was real, and im like 80% sure this was this guy he was talking about. the raid happened in 2016 and they'd been staking them out since 2013. he had nearly 400 plants and had been sourcing many of them from poachers in indonesia and borneo.
remember folks: poaching happens with plants too! it's a huge problem not only in carnvirous plants (nepenthes especially, which this piece is dedicated to talking about) but also in native plant populations in the US, including native carnivorous plant populations (north and south carolina's venus fly traps, california's darlingtonia, and sarracenia from the east coast), native orchids (historically one of the most poached categories), desert plants/cacti/succulents, and slow-growing woody ornamentals (cycads, for example). never buy bare-root plants off ebay or facebook! your best bet is local nurseries (which usually purchase farm-raised plants that do well in a wide range of conditions, and as a result have a healthy population in the wild) or specialty greenhouses (more expensive, but at least in the case of carnivorous plants offer young plants bred from established adult plants in-house, raised in captivity).
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typhlonectes · 19 days
‘Lost’ pigeon found after more than a century
A September expedition to Papua New Guinea confirmed via video the existence of the black-naped pheasant pigeon, a critically endangered species that has not been reported for 140 years.
“For much of the trip, it seemed like we had no chance of finding this bird,” said Jordan Boersma, co-leader of the expedition and a postdoctoral researcher at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “We were just two days away from the end of our time on Fergusson Island in Papua New Guinea when one of our remote cameras recorded the bird walking around and fanning its tail.”
The group captured the first-ever video and still photos of the bird, a large ground-dwelling species with a rust-colored back, a black head and body, and a bobbing pheasant-like tail. It may only exist far inland on Fergusson Island in hot, extremely rugged geothermal terrain laced with twisty rivers and dense with biting insects and leeches...
Read more: https://news.cornell.edu/stories/2022/11/lost-pigeon-found-after-more-century
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