How Mosquitos Changed the Course of Human History

by Drishti Ranjan
How Mosquitos Changed the Course of Human History

March 10, 2021

It’s funny to think that even though we humans consider ourselves to be the most advanced species to have ever existed, we forget to take into account the fact that our entire ancestral history was dislodged by finger-nail sized insects. Studies show that mosquitos have evolved faster than humans and possibly changed our history too.

I don’t know if it’s just me, but these buzzing parasites have almost doubled in number this summer. I also have a feeling that mosquitoes are best friends with the sleep haters. The minute mind wants to shut down for the day, these annoying beings just buzz right in the ear. With already being immune to the chemicals we use to threaten them, should we be scared of what they may have in store for us, if disturbing sleep wasn’t enough already?

With already being immune to many chemicals we use to threaten them, mosquitoes have evolved themselves.

Mosquitos – Unleashing the reign of terror!

Mosquitos have been responsible for wiping out masses in history; what’s even worse is that advances in medical science [where no less than five Nobel prizes have been awarded for the work in the field of malaria] has not been able to mitigate the damage either!

From Malaria, Yellow Fever to Zika, these insects have continued to unleash their reign of terror.

They aren’t just annoying pests, but actual personified miniature version of the grim reaper in itself. Fifty-two billion people,[that is almost half of the cumulative human population! ] are thought to have perished at the hands of these apparent ‘annoying pests’

A female mosquito, or the infamous ‘Aedis Aegypti’ is the one we should be looking out for, because she’s the one who bites and transmits disease. She is way more dangerous and far more lethal than the minds of the most brilliant generals or man-made weapons.

1200px Aedes aegypti
The infamous femlae mosquito "Aedis Aegypti" is the one who transmits diseases and is more dangerous than most of the "man-made" weapons.

Mosquitos – First Mode of Biological Warfare

Until the 19th century the cause of mosquito-borne illnesses was unknown. Yet, if traced back to its origin, it can be observed that it was used as the first mode of biological warfare.

During the world war II. Malaria was rampantly spreading amongst troops, and claimed up to 65% lives; not just the troops, but in Nazi Germany, around 1942, evidence points toward the fact that even prisoners at the Dachau concentration camp were subjected to a planned mode of warfare involving mosquitoes.

The mosquitoes being used in this ‘research’ weren’t normal mosquitoes, but actually a particular type of mosquito which could live without food and water for four days.

It meant that the mosquito could contract malaria, and be released on the desired target. They would hunt down their prey and survive long enough to affect a large number of people.

During the World war II, the malaria claimed upto 65% lives including troops and the civilians too.

Such experiments at the Entomological Institute, Dachau were carried on by Dr Claus Schilling. He tried his experimental thesis on malaria onto the prisoners in order to deliberately infect them. However, after the war ended his work died with him when he was sentenced to death by hanging at the Dachau trials.

But humanity’s battle with mosquitoes started way before than this. This pesty small insect has affected almost all corners of the world. It has even affected some great legends who were undefeated at the hands of large armies. Genghis Khan and his ever-expanding Mongol Empire lead to it’s decline when came into contact with this insect.

The reason behind the Mongols deciding to forego Europe is disputed, Yet, one of the popular beliefs is that the decision to postpone an invasion was based on the weakening of the Mongol army. It is believed that the troops had contracted malaria in the Caucasus and along the river systems of the Black Sea, magnified by nearly twenty years of continuing war.

Not Once, Not Twice – Mosquitos Attacked Several Times

If the legends are to be believed, during the American Revolution,  the forces of General Washington and Lafayette didn’t win the war by themselves, they were assisted by a secret weapon: a swarm of deadly mosquitos. Millions of Americans were plagued by mosquitoes from the end of the 17th century to the beginning of the 20th with malaria and yellow fever. The death toll from the yellow fever alone was more than 1 Lakh (!)

USA established the ‘Office of Malaria Control’ who’s main aim was to protect the American troops from contracting malaria. This office was later converted into the Communicable Disease Center. And by mid-1950s. the US curbed the spread of most mosquito-borne illnesses.

To combat this, dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane or ‘DDT’, was used. It was actually developed as the first of the modern synthetic insecticides in the 1940s but was also initially used to combat mosquito-borne illnesses. Even though, it was highly helpful and assisted in curbing the spread, it had to be discontinued, owing to its usage possibly leading to cancer, and even polluting the environment.

Going by the aforesaid records, I honestly don’t know what’s more lethal – guns or mosquitoes?


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