Speed Reads

Death and taxes

Man is only the second deadliest animal

Man is only the second deadliest animal

Bill Gates is best known as the founder of Microsoft, but he's been making waves in the last year or so as a blogger writing about his philanthropic work on third-world economic development and public health challenges.

Gates' latest post highlights the challenges to global public health posed by the mosquito. It is the deadliest animal, at least in terms of how many people are killed by an animal every year, and it's way, way, way ahead of other deadlier-looking and more widely feared candidates like sharks, snakes, lions, and wolves. Even humans — who have some of the most powerful killing technologies, like guns, bombs, and chemical weapons — are below the mosquito:

[Gates Foundation/World Health Organization]

Why the mosquito? They carry devastating diseases — mainly, malaria. Each year, malaria kills more than 600,000 people and sickens 200 million. Other deadly diseases carried by mosquitoes include dengue fever, yellow fever, and encephalitis.

And their spread is very, very global. There are upwards of 3,500 species of mosquito, and they exist on every continent other than Antarctica. During mosquito season, the deadly insects are estimated to outnumber every other animal on Earth, except termites (250 trillion) and ants (1 quadrillion).

Given that mosquitoes are so deadly, it's unsurprising that there are scientists working on wiping them out of existence entirely. But would that really be desirable? The science journal Nature surveyed prominent ecologists in 2010 on the matter, and concluded: "Scientists acknowledge that the ecological scar left by a missing mosquito would heal quickly as the niche was filled by other organisms. Life would continue as before — or even better."