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How Mosquitoes Helped Shape the Course of Human History

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Fifty-two billion people—almost half of the cumulative human population—are thought to have perished at the hands of a creature no bigger than a fingernail: the mosquito. In his 2019 book The Mosquito: A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator, historian Timothy Winegard exposes this insect as not merely an itchy pest, but a force of nature that has dictated the outcome of significant events throughout human history. From ancient Athens to World War II, Winegard highlights key moments when mosquito-borne diseases caused militaries to crumble, great leaders to fall ill, and populations to be left vulnerable to invasion.

In addition to addressing the mosquito’s pivotal role in battle, Winegard reveals some uglier effects of its diseases, such as how malarial resistance contributed to the rise of the African slave trade, and the concept of biological warfare.

Winegard spoke with Smithsonian about the book and if modern technology can defeat this threat to humanity—and whether it should.

A lot of people acknowledge that insects, despite being pesky or annoying, have an important role in our overall ecosystem. Do mosquitoes contribute anything other than just being a parasite?

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GettyImages-1134819260.jpgMosquitos and their related diseases played a role in many historical events. Photo by frank600 / Getty Images.

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