Aedes aegypti. Image credit: Harvard Natural History Museum Department of Entomology
In 2016, an American man named William Nami sued his employer, Union Pacific Railroad, in Southeast Texas. Nami argued that he was constantly bitten by mosquitoes due to a defect in his equipment’s cabin door, which caused him to contract West Nile Virus. The region is infamous for its dense mosquito populations, and one nearby town even labels itself as the ‘mosquito capital of the world’ and hosts an annual Great Texas Mosquito Festival. The Texas Supreme Court ruled in favour of the railroad company, stating that mosquitoes are legally classified as ferae naturae (wild animals) and the company had no responsibility to protect their employees from wild animals.1 This would seem, to any reasonable person, a fair decision—we are not responsible for the behaviour of wild animals that we have not purposefully agitated, and surely no company would claim responsibility for the aggression of the mosquito.
Mosquitoes embody the quintessential anti-human ‘other’ of nature—they are almost universally hated and difficult to live with. They invade spaces of leisure, recreation, and work. They have none of the value that humans typically associate with non-human beings—they do not pollinate important crops like bees do, produce food like livestock does, or produce comfort like traditional domesticated animals can. At the very least, they are useless to us. At the very worst, they are carriers of death. There are 3500 species of mosquitoes—out of those, only 100 species transmit disease to humans, and only 12 species cause significant human death—but this death is quite significant. Collectively, these 12 mosquito species cause approximately 1,000,000 human deaths every year, making the mosquito the most lethal animal on the planet for humans.2
- Union Pacific Railroad v William Nami, 14-0901 (2016)↩
- ‘Mosquito-borne diseases,’ World Mosquito Program, http://worldmosquitoprogram.org/en/learn/mosquito-borne-diseases, accessed 19 May 2020↩