Tigers. Snakes. Sharks. Hippos. Lions. All of these animals aren’t the safest for humans to be around. They’re apex predators, or they carry deadly poison, or they can outweigh and outmuscle humans. Many would list them as the most dangerous animals on Earth.

But none of these are at the top of the deadly list. What is? You might be surprised to find out it is the three-millimeter long mosquito.

Small but deadly

One of the smaller creatures on the planet, the deadly effects of a mosquito can’t be underestimated. More than just an annoyance on a camping trip, this insect carries a range of diseases including dengue fever, malaria, West Nile, Zika, yellow fever, and more. These diseases are responsible for the deaths of an estimated 725,000 people annually. In addition, the World Health Organization has stated that they threaten more than half the world’s population.

How do mosquito-related fatalities compare to other causes of death? In 2014, Bill Gates pointed out that no other species, including the human species, is responsible for causing as many fatalities as the mosquito is. Humans kill 475,000 other humans each year. Snakes kill around 50,000 people. Dogs kill approximately 25,000 people, frequently through rabies.

Most interesting is comparing the rates of mosquito deaths to larger creatures that are typically more feared. Sharks and wolves kill approximately ten people a year. Bears kill an estimated average of three to six people per year.

Preventing mosquito bites

If mosquito bites are deadly, preventing mosquito bites can be crucial. Generally speaking, people can wear protective clothing that exposes as little skin as possible to mosquito bites. Bug sprays, including homemade versions, versions with natural ingredients, and stronger types including the additive DDT, are available and frequently used.

A second approach for areas where mosquito-borne illnesses have been found involves mosquito-spraying fumigation programs. In these cases, areas are sprayed with a pesticide that kills bugs before they can develop and bite humans.

In developing nations that feel large scale effects from mosquito-borne illnesses, well organized programs are testing grounds for how to keep people safe and healthy. Many of these programs start by covering the basics. They implement widespread education campaigns, encourage communities to pay for fumigating costs, and ensure that healthcare systems are prepared to manage disease outbreaks if they happen. They also address areas of standing water which might become breeding ground for mosquitos, and try to place screens in windows and doorways so buildings are mosquito-free.

In addition to the basics, scientists have been working on more innovative approaches to mosquito control. One approach is to use males infected with the Wolbachia bacteria to mate with female mosquitos and prevent them from reproducing. Another approach is to develop a vaccine which would prevent humans from being infected by mosquito-borne illnesses. This same vaccine could be reintroduced to mosquitos and prevent them from being able to feed or lay eggs.

Proven solutions

What mosquito control programs have been proven to work? Most programs start with monitoring so that communities can understand if mosquitos are present and what diseases they may carry. If insects are identified, a baseline safety technique is to communities about how residents can protect themselves. Fogging and pesticide programs also appear to work well. So well, in fact, that many communities pay for these programs regularly.

In conclusion, while mosquitos are known to be one of the deadliest creatures to humans, people aren’t powerless to fight them. Scientists have helped the world understand and reduce fatalities casued by the insects and the illness they carry. Going forward, hopefully, the mosquito’s ranking as the world’s deadliest creature will fall.