5
$\begingroup$

TL-DR: How to create a world with ecology similar to ours, that doesn't have such abominable plagues of mosquitoes in its Arctic summer?

It is tempting to think of mosquitoes as a pest of the tropics, and they certainly are as far as that goes. But as far as I can tell, the worst mosquito plagues of all are in the Arctic summer, and I'm trying to figure out why, so that I can figure out to what extent the same will be true in my fictional setting, or whether there is some minimal change that would make a difference.

So: why?

Okay, I know it is actually reasonably warm in the Arctic in summer, so that is a necessary condition. But why is it worse in the Arctic, than in summer in lower latitudes where it is even warmer?

Permafrost does tend to create lots of pools of stagnant water, which are great for mosquito larvae. But there are also areas in lower latitudes that have ponds, lakes, bogs, swamps etc. and yet the mosquitoes, while present, are not as numerous as they are in the Arctic.

My current best guess is that it's to do with the biological environment:

  1. Because liquid water only exists in the Arctic for part of the year, it is devoid of other things (fish? frogs?) that would eat mosquito larvae. (But there are frogs that can survive being frozen all winter. Why do they not live in the tundra?)

  2. The only birds in the Arctic are the ones that are big enough and strong enough to migrate from the south, not the little ones like robins and sparrows that would eat mosquitoes on the wing.

  3. Similarly, no bats to eat mosquitoes on the wing.

  4. Lemmings and reindeer provide more mammals per square kilometer than anywhere else except the savanna, therefore providing a lot more food for mosquitoes.

Is one of the above correct, or some combination? Or is there some other explanation I have not thought of?

$\endgroup$
5
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Is this a question about a fictional world you've created, or about the actual real-life Earth? $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    May 20 at 17:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Cadence It is about actual ecology with a view to using it for fictional worlds. $\endgroup$
    – rwallace
    May 20 at 18:09
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ 1. The baby birds eat a lot of mosquitoes. 2. Mosquitoes are attracted from kilometres away to any source of CO2. If you placed a video camera in the Arctic and walked away, the swarms would diminished quickly as the mosquitoes would leave to search for blood. $\endgroup$ May 20 at 19:06
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ You could remove all the worldbuilding content and post this on biology, where you're more likely to find experts who know the answer. (I'm not a regular user of that site but would be surprised if this is not on topic there.) $\endgroup$
    – N. Virgo
    May 22 at 11:21
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ 1) melting "perma"-frost is essentially swamp (try a Louisiana bayou for mosquito comparison sometime), and 2) temperate climes also have things that prey on mosquitoes and their larvae. $\endgroup$ May 22 at 11:57

5 Answers 5

8
$\begingroup$

For the question you're actually trying to ask, just delete mosquitoes.

All of them.

Yes, they're a (important?) food source for some birds and other insects, but I don't know of any that are specifically dependent on mosquitoes (for instance, wing feeders like swallows can do just as well on the huge swarms of black flies also found in the arctic summer). No one will miss them in the tropics (and I don't think malaria is an important addition to the ecosystem, either), no one will miss them in Minnesota or Montana, and certainly no one will miss them in Yukon, NWT, Alaska, or Siberia.

$\endgroup$
7
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I certainly agree that the absence of mosquitoes would make life better for the inhabitants of a world! Now, I was hoping for a more subtle and less drastic change. For example, I don't think deleting mosquitoes would make the ecosystem worse off, but it might make it more difficult to predict, which makes life harder from a worldbuilding perspective. Then again, maybe 'what would be the effects of deleting mosquitoes on the ecology' should be a separate question in its own right. $\endgroup$
    – rwallace
    May 20 at 18:38
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Several mosquitoes are important pollinators. So this will affect what plants live. Also fewer mosquitoes means more little blackflies. I will will take mosquitoes over little blackflies thank you. $\endgroup$ May 20 at 18:45
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @GaultDrakkor How do mosquitoes compete with black flies? They don't eat each other; mosquito larvae are aquatic and fly maggots are not. Competition for blood doesn't seem like one winning makes the other lose. I'm genuinely curious. $\endgroup$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    May 20 at 19:19
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I'm going to go with "nobody poops in fiction" on this one. tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/NobodyPoops If it isn't important to the story line or identifying how this world is different from ours, you're over-writing your environment by describing them. $\endgroup$ May 20 at 20:04
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Without mosquitoes, I'm pretty sure something else would've evolved to exploit their ecological niche. They've been around for 100's of millions of years, so it must be a pretty good niche. So logically, even without actual mosquitoes, we'd still have things like mosquitoes. $\endgroup$ May 22 at 12:02
7
$\begingroup$

Biofilms.

Mosquitoes in the Arctic merit colorful language and rather amazing descriptions. For example, "field scientists informally estimate annual intensities of mosquitoes through a peak-season hand-to-arm slap; in some years, hundreds of mosquitoes can be taken in a single slap". These variations occur on a small scale and somewhat unpredictably, but this study sheds some light. (See also this presentation). Notably, it is the amount of food in the pools, where photosynthesis drives a rapid protozoan ecosystem during the summer, which determines the number of mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes have some arguments in favor of them, such as that the males are important pollinators in some subarctic regions, while the larvae graze on common protozoa allowing a greater biodiversity of the others. Mosquitoes also serve as both predator and prey (even of one another). (I'm not sure these arguments would last more than a minute on a hundred-mosquito-swat day...)

At this point you have several options:

  • Set your story in exo-Iceland, which doesn't have mosquitoes. You'll never miss 'em.

  • Make your environment rich in something like Toxorhynchites, which doesn't need to feed on blood because it feeds on mosquito larvae instead. (!)

  • Propose something else that freezes in Arctic ponds and eats up lots of pond biofilm in a hurry, so the mosquitoes have a poor environment.

  • Make your humans (and other favored animals) mosquito-proof with tough carbon fibers in the basement membrane of their epidermis, which block most attempts to drill into the blood vessels beneath.

$\endgroup$
6
$\begingroup$

The arctic is an extreme place, so life becomes extreme as well.

Life in the tropics has the whole year to do whatever needs to be done. But in a place that is inhospitable for half of the year, you have to compensate and live twice as hard on the other half.

That is why crops from the arctic are freaking HUGE. If you search for images of pumpkins grown in Alaska, you'll see it's not unusual to harvest some that are larger and heavier than people. The stress on produce due to having limited time to grow makes them grow more and faster.

Just the same: mosquitoes in the arctic have very little time to love and lay eggs. So they've got to be more aggressive about it.

If you want your world to be chill in the coldest places, you have to make it so that the cold places are not so inhospitable during winter.

Remember, there were once tropical forests in the North pole, back in the time of dinosaurs. But that is turning the tables around, because then it's the tropics that get WILD when it's not so hot.

$\endgroup$
1
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ "The stress on produce due to having limited time to grow makes them grow more and faster." — many places in the arctic and sub-arctic experience 24-hour sunlight. This makes photosynthesis a 24/7 operation. Coupled with adequate soil and water, a day that lasts 3 months is probably the biggest contributing factor to crop size. $\endgroup$ May 23 at 2:22
1
$\begingroup$

TIME, there's little time in the arctic where the environment is favorable to flying insects. they must compact their life cycle into only a week or two.

Mosquitoes, black flys, midges. they each have their own 'season', only a week or two. Where they must hatch, molt, breed and lay eggs. So they have evolved to swarm, and do it very well. Where in the tropics there really is no season as long as there is suitable water.

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

Mosquitoes don't like direct sunlight. In the Arctic, sunlight is not a problem most of the time.

It might be very beneficial for them if there's little natural predators targeting them.

$\endgroup$
3
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Sorry, in the high Arctic you have potentially 24 hour sunlight in the summer. And although the weather may be unstable, you may also have long periods of just that - sunlight 24 hours a day as you ar north of the polar front. $\endgroup$ May 21 at 6:25
  • $\begingroup$ There you have eternal dusk. Mosquitoes love dusk. $\endgroup$
    – alamar
    May 21 at 7:14
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Nope, The sun is low, but it is nothing like dusk (I live on 60 deg north and have spent quite a bite of time between 70 and 80 degrees north in summer, I know what it looks like) $\endgroup$ May 21 at 12:09

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .