Anyone who spends time outside is aware that summer in many parts of North America is synonymous with mosquito season. Mosquitoes are found on most continents in astonishing variety. Over 3,500 species exist, a few hundred of which bite humans and other animals. “Why did God create mosquitoes?” most of our children ask at some point. As a grandfather, I’ve heard this question from two generations of children (and plenty of adults, too) and I still struggle to offer a good answer.
We ask this question with the belief that all creatures in God’s good world serve an important function in their environments, even if they are in some way pesky or dangerous to humans. So, for example, even though bee stings are painful and can even be fatal, we acknowledge that bees are critical hard workers that pollinate and ensure the reproduction of many plants and thereby enable many products we depend on to come to harvest. A sting is thus seen as a reasonable defense of a bee’s home and life.
The same cannot be said of mosquitoes. Whereas bees sting defensively, mosquito bites are offensive: female mosquitoes bite to collect blood that they need to lay their eggs. Beyond producing an itchy bump, these bites for reproductive purposes also transmit diseases. If a mosquito takes blood from a sick individual, it passes the disease to its next victim through its saliva. Mosquito-transmitted malaria kills nearly one million people worldwide and infects 247 million people a year, while a less pervasive but nonetheless dangerous disease, West Nile virus, has become a concern in North America thanks to mosquitoes.
In a July 2010 Naturearticle, Janet Fang explores the consequences of a world without mosquitoes. In general, after talking with many scientists, she concludes that eliminating mosquitoes would have only a few harmful effects that would soon disappear. It would simply be an ecological hiccup. In contrast, it would result in many human lives saved and more healthy people and life of all types would go on. In short, Fang was unable to identify any useful function for mosquitoes that could not ultimately be filled by another creature.
Scientists estimate that mosquitoes have existed on the earth for more than 100 million years. If their estimate is even close to correct, mosquitoes have an older history than humans. They were present in the world when God stated that the creation was good and later that it was very good. What criteria did God use to identify creation as “very good?” Would mosquitoes be less troublesome and deemed to be good if our bodies did not have an allergic reaction to their saliva and diseases did not use them as a way to spread? Is the illness that mosquitoes spread part of the natural order of the good creation, or is it one of the ways creation groans because of sin? Is part of our task as caretakers of creation to clear the world of mosquitoes? (At this point, we do not seem to be able to eradicate this very small animal.)
Must everything in creation serve a purpose? Or may some aspects of creation be there only for their beauty? And who decides on beauty? Are our standards the same as God’s? “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin. Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these” (Matthew 6:28-29).
We have butterfly conservatories but no mosquito conservatories. Have you ever observed the beauty, the compact elegance, of a mosquito? Perhaps this is their place in God’s creation, to be a thing of beauty. Or perhaps they are to serve as a source of admiration. We can admire the mosquito’s tenacity and very effective exploitation of the natural world. They very efficiently glean the energy they need from plant nectar and the protein they need for reproduction through the blood of other animals (humans included). It’s no wonder that mosquitoes have survived in creation so long.
Will there be mosquitoes in the new heaven and new earth? Personally I hope not, but fortunately it is not my decision. It is in better hands.
(Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.)