Thank a mosquito. . .

Next time you get bit by a mosquito, do not swat him. Rather, thank him for your freedom!  Yesterday marked the 229th anniversary of George Washington’s victory over the British at Yorktown, which meant that American independence was won.  This fascinating piece by J. R. McNeill credits the lowly and much-hated mosquito for this otherwise unlikely turn of events:

Major combat operations in the American Revolution ended 229 years ago on Oct. 19, at Yorktown. For that we can thank the fortitude of American forces under George Washington, the siegecraft of French troops of Gen. Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, the count of Rochambeau – and the relentless bloodthirstiness of female Anopheles quadrimaculatus mosquitoes.

Those tiny amazons conducted covert biological warfare against the British army. Female mosquitoes seek mammalian blood to provide the proteins they need to make eggs. No blood meal, no reproduction. It makes them bold and determined to bite.

Some anopheles mosquitoes carry the malaria parasite, which they can inject into human bloodstreams when taking their meals. In eastern North America, A. quadrimaculatus was the sole important malaria vector. It carried malaria from person to person, and susceptible humans carried it from mosquito to mosquito. In the 18th century, no one suspected that mosquitoes carried diseases.

Malaria, still one of the most deadly infectious diseases in the world, was a widespread scourge in North America until little more than a century ago. The only people resistant to it were either those of African descent – many of whom had inherited genetic traits that blocked malaria from doing its worst – or folks who had already been infected many times, acquiring resistance the hard way. In general, the more bouts you survive, the more resistant you are.

via How mosquitoes helped swarm the redcoats at Yorktown.

The article goes on to explain how the British troops, with no immunity to malaria, were incapacitated by the disease, while the colonial troops, especially the Southerners who had already survived bouts with the mosquito-borne malady, were relatively immune.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://acroamaticus.blogspot.com Mark Henderson

    Fascinating indeed that history can turn on such small details. But also perhaps a bit of a ‘mythbuster’ in regard to Washington and the French-American forces? In any case, I suspect that Cornwallis’s orders from his superiors had just as much to do with his defeat as malaria.

  • http://acroamaticus.blogspot.com Mark Henderson

    Fascinating indeed that history can turn on such small details. But also perhaps a bit of a ‘mythbuster’ in regard to Washington and the French-American forces? In any case, I suspect that Cornwallis’s orders from his superiors had just as much to do with his defeat as malaria.

  • trotk

    Additionally, we could thank mosquitoes every time we have certain fresh water fish. They take the blood of mammals, and then get eaten by fish like trout, thus transferring the protein and nutrients to a meal we can all appreciate.

  • trotk

    Additionally, we could thank mosquitoes every time we have certain fresh water fish. They take the blood of mammals, and then get eaten by fish like trout, thus transferring the protein and nutrients to a meal we can all appreciate.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Well, we also have to thank Washington’s tactical skill in marching his whole army from up north undetected to seal off Cornwallis’s troops. Also the French fleet for blockading the Chesapeake Bay, preventing British ships from supplying or rescuing Cornwallis. He and his forces were caught in an iron trap that was impossible to escape from. That and those pesky mosquitoes.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Well, we also have to thank Washington’s tactical skill in marching his whole army from up north undetected to seal off Cornwallis’s troops. Also the French fleet for blockading the Chesapeake Bay, preventing British ships from supplying or rescuing Cornwallis. He and his forces were caught in an iron trap that was impossible to escape from. That and those pesky mosquitoes.

  • Orianna Laun

    Thanks, mosquitoes! *SMACK*

  • Orianna Laun

    Thanks, mosquitoes! *SMACK*

  • Abby

    I recently said, “God doesn’t care about mosquitos at all! They’re just food for something in the food chain.” Well, it looks like God rounded them up for this special “little” task. (I don’t believe in “coincidences.”) And they have more value in our scheme of things than I ever knew could be possible for a mosquito. Wow. It is mind-boggling–the tiny details and synchronization in His creation. And of His sovereign rule over all.

  • Abby

    I recently said, “God doesn’t care about mosquitos at all! They’re just food for something in the food chain.” Well, it looks like God rounded them up for this special “little” task. (I don’t believe in “coincidences.”) And they have more value in our scheme of things than I ever knew could be possible for a mosquito. Wow. It is mind-boggling–the tiny details and synchronization in His creation. And of His sovereign rule over all.

  • http://theobservationtree.blogspot.com Louis

    Abby, from the other side, the mosquito’s were doing the devil’s work. ;)

  • http://theobservationtree.blogspot.com Louis

    Abby, from the other side, the mosquito’s were doing the devil’s work. ;)

  • Abby

    Louis @6 Of course!

  • Abby

    Louis @6 Of course!

  • Another Kerner

    Did we not all learn as children:
    “For the want of nail, the shoe was lost.
    For the want of the shoe, the horse was lost
    For want of the horse, the rider was lost
    For want of the rider, the battle was lost
    For want of the battle, the kingdom was lost.
    All for the want of a horse shoe nail”.

    Let us never forget Jonah, sitting in the shade of a large gourd which God prepared for him….
    However, God also “prepared a worm” and an “east wind”.

    I rejoice that God sent the mosquitoes and General George Washington.

  • Another Kerner

    Did we not all learn as children:
    “For the want of nail, the shoe was lost.
    For the want of the shoe, the horse was lost
    For want of the horse, the rider was lost
    For want of the rider, the battle was lost
    For want of the battle, the kingdom was lost.
    All for the want of a horse shoe nail”.

    Let us never forget Jonah, sitting in the shade of a large gourd which God prepared for him….
    However, God also “prepared a worm” and an “east wind”.

    I rejoice that God sent the mosquitoes and General George Washington.

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  • http://http://foina-tranme.livejournal.com.livejournal.com nickgalmi

    “19, at Yorktown. For that we can thank the fortitude of American forces under George Washington, the siegecraft of French troops of Gen. Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, the count of Rochambeau – and the relentless bloodthirstiness of female Anopheles quadrimaculatus mosquitoes.”
    Are you sure that this is true?

  • http://http://foina-tranme.livejournal.com.livejournal.com nickgalmi

    “19, at Yorktown. For that we can thank the fortitude of American forces under George Washington, the siegecraft of French troops of Gen. Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, the count of Rochambeau – and the relentless bloodthirstiness of female Anopheles quadrimaculatus mosquitoes.”
    Are you sure that this is true?


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