It’s time for a controversial statement: malaria sucks. Someone should really do something about that.
How much does malaria suck? Try 660,000 deaths a year, something the World Health Organization loves to put down as the emotionally crushing average of almost 2,000 people a day. Humans have a bad time conceptualizing numbers as big as 660,000 deaths in a year so I’ll put it this way: that would depopulate Manhattan in less than three years. Sorry, readers from New York, but part of being iconic is getting used in ways to illustrate large numbers of people, dead or otherwise.
Malaria is spread by way of mosquitoes and most of the cost-effective ways found to deal with the disease are by limiting that vector. Nets are popular, and particularly effective when coated with insecticide. However, a small portion of mosquitoes are surviving this whole poison-net thing to produce offspring. And the offspring of those offspring will be less and less likely to die to net death. Meaning this whole net death thing has its limit. Yeah, thanks a lot, Darwin. Because of you I want to find a mosquito killer with a hundred-percent kill rate. Though to be fair I also want to find something with a hundred-percent mosquito kill rate because I really hate mosquitoes.
Recently it’s been suggested that mosquitoes can be genetically modified into only producing non-bloodsucking males. However I find that, first of all, this is not painful enough of a way to go for the mosquitoes, and secondly, we need to be absolutely sure that all the good work mosquitoes do as food for bigger species, and as pollinators won’t be missed. (That article does mention a–as in one–study about this, but I am not convinced).
So what is something that kills mosquitoes pretty much all of the time it’s employed but doesn’t end an entire species? The cold, furry, eight-legged grip of death from our friendly, neighborhood spiders. Let’s start putting those in bedrooms in developing countries. Everybody loves having spiders in their bedroom, so you can see that this post is also about America winning hearts and minds.
I’m not the first to think about natural pest control. In my home state of Montana, for example, we have a huge problem with plants from Europe, such as spotted knapweed. Knapweed kills the plants around it and out-competes the local flora, leading to destabilized habitats and fields of nothing but knapweed. So we introduced some of the insects that help keep knapweed populations in control in their native lands, but I don’t know if anyone thought about what sorts of things eat those insects, or what other things those insects might eat, or if other problems might suddenly crop up.
So you see I wasn’t kidding when I said neighborhood spiders. It’s probably a good idea to disturb the local ecosystems as little as possible. There are African spiders that already hunger for malarial mosquitoes anyway. Apparently they are way tastier than other bugs… not that I would know. Unfortunately, this eight-eyed cutie is a jumping spider, but suppose we can find local varieties of spiders with a craving for malaria that build giant webs. Teach people that, in addition to their insecticide-treated mosquito nets, it’s okay to let these little furry pets live in the house.
Mosquitoes, like many members of the insect world, use the moon to help navigate. This means, that like moths, when there is a constant light a few feet from them instead of a steady and stable 384,000 kilometers, their navigation system gets a little off. Mosquito zappers work on this principle and we can totally use it with spiders.
The process of extracting jellyfish genes to make other animals glow in the dark, from pigs, to sheep, to kittens, is already well-established. In fact, if you live in the United States you can go buy some fish for your aquarium. A glow in the dark spider would have the advantage of eating more tasty malaria mosquitoes since mosquitoes like bumping into bright lights. Also, people seem to have this irrational fear of these eight-legged venom-injecting nightmare monsters, but having them glow brightly in the corner of your room while you sleep would make an excellent and comforting night light.
Glow in the dark spiders are a better option than zappers because they are self-sustaining and don’t require pesky things like electricity, something poorer nations aren’t always great about consistently supplying. Also with a zapper the little bastards are just electrocuted. Obviously this isn’t nearly a painful enough way to die for a mosquito. Unless someone like George R.R. Martin can come up with a more terrifying death, I’m sticking with the spider thing. The mosquitoes will struggle in the webs waiting for that small injection of venom before being slowly cocooned in spider silk and mummified by having their insides dissolved and eaten while still alive–wow I really hate mosquitoes. I just hope that their little brains are complicated enough to know fear.
The only other thing is that genetically modifying organisms can do weird things to their ability to reproduce. If the spiders bred with local wild spiders it could also have unforeseen consequences on the ecosystem. So I recommend we make the spiders sterile and set up huge facilities to clone them. Millions of cloned spiders could be made every year to ship out to malarial countries. All to end malaria.
Sleep tight. Spiders watch over you.