Entomologists Discuss Discovery’s “Mosquito” Documentary: A Live-Tweet Recap

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The Discovery documentary Mosquito brought some well-deserved attention to mosquitoes and the human disease pathogens that they transmit around the world. (Image courtesy of Discovery)

The old adage “bad press is better than no press” has a long history, and it surely applies to coverage of insects broadly and insects that are harmful to humans, more specifically. If you missed the Discovery channel program Mosquito that aired last Thursday night, July 6, then you missed a chance to see some of that press.

As an attempt to explore what was factual and clearing up any potential fear-mongering or errors, a group of mosquito researchers got together and live tweeted the event. If you’re not familiar with a live tweet (don’t worry, you’re probably not alone), it uses the social media platform Twitter to facilitate real time discussion around a central topic or event. In this case, I was joined by three other mosquito researchers who use Twitter for mosquito-related information: Cameron Webb, Ph.D., medical entomologist at the University of Sydney, Australia (@Mozziebites); Jason Rasgon, Ph.D., professor of entomology at Pennsylvania State University, (@vectorgen); and Autumn Angelus, biologist at the Salem County Mosquito Control Department in New Jersey (@AutumnAngeleus). Participants brought different perspectives to the event, including research, outreach, control, and surveillance, and based on their interests in mosquitoes (and other stuff) brought lively discussion to the topic.

Our live tweet had a couple of main goals: to comment on what the show got right and what it got wrong and to facilitate a wider discussion on mosquitoes (something we assumed would be difficult for a 90 minute television show). In both cases, we hoped our tweets would start the conversation, not replace it. Note that tweets surrounding the event can be found using #skeeter and via individual participant accounts.

What Mosquito Got Right

Mosquitoes are not all bad:

Some are actually beneficial:

But the program delves into a popular question, “Should we just kill all mosquitoes?” And the answer is, well, complicated:

It did stress that humans are the root of outbreaks via global travel and the movement of goods like tires:

However, control measures, especially when it comes to genetic engineering, remain controversial:

What Mosquito Got Wrong or Missed

Unfortunately, the show spent time implicating mosquitoes in the genus Culex (epsecially Cx. quinquefasciatus) as vectors for Zika, especially in Brazil. At present, there just is no data to support that:

See:

Overall, the program hit the major diseases (Zika, dengue, chickungunya, yellow fever, West Nile, and malaria); however, that’s not the end of the road for mosquito-borne disease. Other pathogens potentially loom on the horizon:

To be prepared, we need more data, especially for distributions on many important vectors. A recent update on Aedes aegypti by the CDC, for instance, is not as impressive as it might be given that some of the data is 20 years old.

Also, although the program interviewed prominent advocates for reducing mosquito-borne disease, such as Bill Gates, there was little emphasis on what lessons we’ve learned from past outbreaks or long-standing diseases:

Finally, there was little discussion on the potential effects of the threat posed by climate change for mosquitoes:

Thus, this was a good introduction to mosquitoes, a group of extremely important animals of which most of the public has little understanding. It would be beneficial if there were more shows like this and, with this in mind, I sent a tweet to the people at Discovery to ask about their fascination with sharks (a group that pales in comparison to mosquitoes for causing human deaths), and then I was reminded of something:

More about the participants:

Read more:


Donald A. Yee, Ph.D. (@aquatic_insects), is an associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Southern Mississippi. He studies the ecology of medically important mosquitoes (Aedes albopictus, Aedes aegypti, Culex quinquefasciatus) in the southeastern U.S. and in Puerto Rico.

Comments

  1. Nothing was said on insect repellents, one of the better viable options to prevent vector-borne diseases. One product good for most

  2. Reblogged this on IBHE Collaborative University.

  3. It is great to see that colleague professionals analyzed MOSQUITO in detail and live tweeted during broadcasting. Happy to read that there were no errors (apart maybe from the Culex/Zika connection; but it was still mentioned as ‘iffy’ even in the doc). Yes indeed, wish we could do a series, but this doc alone costed 2 years to make.

    Indeed, it would have been nice to go into other control tools, like repellents, trapping, larviciding with biologicals, other genetic control tools (like SIT), etc., but there wasn’t enough time. The original doc was 83 min, but it had to be cut down to 63.

    Let’s hope that MOSQUITO serves as a wakeup call for those that need it.

  4. We definitely wouldn’t want to disrupt the ecosystem by killing all mosquito species… We do want to kill those that pose a threat to our existence like Aedes and Anopheles.

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