Apex Predators

Orca Skull Cast

With teeth like these it is easy to see why the orca is the apex predator of the sea. Even Great White sharks run in fear from Killer whales, because the whales like to feed on them. They eat the shark’s liver and only the liver, for its iron.

I’ve seen orcas in the wild. It was in Puget Sound. Carl and I were taking a late ferry across to the Olympic Peninsula. Anne and Jay had already taken the four kids across and we were going to join them for a weekend whale watching expedition. Two orcas crossed in front of the ferry. Those were the only whales that we saw. The weather on the Pacific side of the Olympic was so rough that even though we did go out in a boat, it was impossible to see any whales.

While sharks may enjoy a fearsome, but noble apex predator, in the orca, we humans are not so lucky.  According to Timothy Winegard’s NY Times article, “The Mosquitoes Are Coming for Us“, our apex predator is the mosquito: 

She gently lands on your ankle and inserts two serrated mandible cutting blades and saws into your skin, while two other retractors open a passage for the proboscis. With this straw she sucks your blood, while a sixth needle pumps in saliva that contains an anticoagulant that prevents that blood from clotting. This shortens her feeding time, lessening the likelihood that you splat her across your ankle.

Researchers think that mosquitoes may have killed half of the 108 billion people who have ever lived, but they don’t do this alone. They are assisted by the likes of malaria, Zika, West Nile, dengue and yellow fever. It doesn’t help that Type O blood, my type, is their preferred menu item. When I used to drink a lot of Coke, Anne always said that the bugs like me more, because my blood is so sweet. It is, but not because of any soda that I might have drunk.

People have been trying to deal with this scourge forever. We tried poisoning them with DDT, but then they just mutated a resistance. Florida’s Disney World is a more enlightened success story. Even though it was built in a central Florida swamp, it is pretty mosquito free. This is accomplished not with chemicals, but by turning all of the once stagnate swamp water into flowing water. Mosquitoes won’t breed in moving water. Disney World is big enough to create its own ecosystem, but most of humanity can’t afford this solution or its park prices.

The advent of modern genetic technology, in the form of Crispr offers us the opportunity to up our game. Throughout history our battle against the mosquito had been a onesided disaster. Using Crispr scientists have already created sterile mosquitoes. Maybe Bill Gates and a few more of his billionaire colleagues can chip in enough money to make enough of these drones to put a dent in the 100 trillion world mosquito population? Until then, keep slapping.

4 thoughts on “Apex Predators

  1. the best method of controlling mosquitoes is a little fish called a gambusia or mosquitofish. Their
    favorite meal is mosquito larvae. Your grandfather was responsible for mosquito control on the
    city reservoirs in Birmingham, AL when I was a kid. Incidently it’s only the female mosquitoes that
    bite. Males are vegetarians.

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