Viruses And Colonization: Humanity’s Hate Affair With Mosquitoes

Updated: Feb 12

Water striders, who eat mosquito larvae on the surface.

It feels like we live in unprecedented times, and, indeed, no one alive has witnessed a viral pandemic of this magnitude before. This isn’t, however, the 1st viral pandemic in history, which is why political commentators have drawn parallels to others such as SARS, Ebola, Influenza, etc. Based on where I live, though, the parallel that stands out is with mosquito-borne infections; Dengue, Chikungunya, Yellow Fever, and so on.

Public health campaigns about Dengue prevention in Brazil were constant throughout my lifetime, and it never occurred to me or anyone around me to question its message — mosquitoes transmit it, and clean stagnant water is what they need to proliferate. Therefore, everyone ought to do everything they can to minimize these vectors for disease, since the mosquito born in your house respects no property line and will feed on anyone. This has never become a partisan issue, the science behind it has not been questioned, and slacking on the public health requirements is frowned upon.

Despite not having learned to distinguish between mosquito larvae and that of other animals, and considering I am highly suspicious of government and authority in general, questioning the science behind the life cycle of a mosquito that transmits disease never occurred to me. I am a woman who lives alone, and the Dengue inspector is the only strange man from the street I allow in my home. Every small artificial body of water I see comes with a flashing danger sign, and I have developed muscle memory from flipping over water-gathering containers.

In 2008, NPR published a piece describing mosquitoes as “nature’s Viet Congs”; defenders “of ferns, butterflies, beetles and ants from humankind”. At the time, I thought that made sense. Cities grow, take the place of the forest, and mosquitoes are the nuisance which remains. But upon further reflection, especially in the COVID context, the analogy seems inept.

Aren’t Viet Congs part of humanity, and humanity part of nature? Most importantly, weren’t there humans living in the forest before mosquitoes began trying to repel humanity from ‘nature’? How did indigenous people handle virus-drenched-mosquitoes?

The answer is: they didn’t. There was no Dengue before colonization.

It is widely known that viral infections were weaponized against native civilizations by settlers, the chicken-pox blanket as the most notorious example. The Aedes aegypti, the mosquito which spreads Dengue, Chikungunya, Zika, Yellow fever and other viruses, came as eggs in water brought in ships from Africa in the 16th century. By the 18th century, there had been outbreaks of infections in 3 or more continents at once.

Well, we are here, now, still struggling to keep this virus under control. The approach has been to make our urban living environment unwelcoming to these creatures. Meaning: no excess of plants that give them shade and block the breeze which sweeps them away; no organic matter because they contain plant sugars mosquitoes feed on; no irregular, dirty surfaces that can hold the liquid for them to lay eggs in. What this also leads to is the expulsion of any other living thing aside from humans. No plants also means no butterflies; no organic matter also means no worms and fertility for plants; no water also means no frogs and dragonflies.

The paradox is the need for more water, plants and organic matter to attract more animals that are natural predators of mosquitoes and their larvae. Biodiversity has a positive cascading effect, where water attracts mosquitoes, which attract frogs who eat mosquitoes. If adding to the mix beetles, birds, spiders, lizards, snails, ants, butterflies, dragonflies, worms, water striders, etc., we can see that mosquitoes come alone when there is a random tire getting rained on by the side of the road. In some ways, it’s like the principle of a vaccine — don’t avoid the problem, safely expose yourself to it and find a healthy organic balance to fight it.

Balance is no simple thing to achieve, much less in the scale of a whole planet. Perhaps the change towards balance we can achieve lies in the realm of our personal lives and a shift in perspective. This is already a lot of work, but it’s where every great idea starts. To question authority and its untrustworthy institutions does not come at the expense of learning biology. In fact, it relies on this knowledge — how else will we know the fallacies of the system and gather the tools to speak the truth about power?

Written by Mirna Wabi-Sabi
She is site editor of Gods and Radicals, founder and editor-in-chief of Plataforma9, author of the book Anarcho-Transcreation, and a political commentator through writing, editing, teaching and translating.

Originally published at