Tiger Mosquitoes from Ross to Gates
In 1924, Ronald Ross delivered a radio lecture on the BBC on ‘the chief enemy of mankind’ in which he contrasted the disease-carrying capacities of the mosquito (which he had helped to elucidate) to the ravages wrought by wild beasts and politicians. A century later, Bill Gates succinctly echoed this sentiment in a tweet marking #WorldMosquitoDay 2018 that repeated his stock phrase: ‘mosquitoes kill more people in a day than sharks kill in 100 years’. Ever since their role in the distribution of infectious diseases began to be elucidated at the end of the nineteenth century, mosquitoes—especially female mosquitoes—have been vilified as conscious, even malicious predators of health. Though such metaphoric characterisations and representations of the mosquito are crucial from the point of view of public health messaging, one could argue that this one-dimensional attribution of ‘guilt’ bypasses cultural, economic, and environmental forces that drive infectious disease. Drawing on a diverse set of historical and contemporary materials, this paper explores a tendency to perpetuate highly gendered narrative and visual tropes in both scientific and lay productions that cast the mosquito as a ‘predatory’ species in one guise or another. The chapter thus provides a timely examination of mosquitoes as ‘epidemic villains’ within the context of surging anxieties for mosquito-borne disease in the face of global climate change.
This chapter developed out of a paper presented at the conference ‘Comic Epidemics: Cartoons, Caricatures and Graphic Novels’ at CRASSH (University of Cambridge) in February 2018. I am grateful to the conference organisers, Lukas Engelmann and Christos Lynteris, and participants for their thoughtful questions and suggestions. I am indebted to Edmond Lee at Humanoids for granting permission to reproduce a frame from the graphic novel Dengue, and Cailin Wyatt for securing permission to reproduce an image from GatesNotes. Finally, I wish to thank the editor and the reviewer for their constructive comments.