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Mosquitos: Revolutionary War Heroes

Today mosquitos are doing their part to spread West Nile virus to as many Americans as possible, but in 1779 they were actually helping us out by spreading malaria to the invading British forces. Author Matt Ridley looks at the affect mosquitos had on the Revolutionary War in his new book titled The Evolution of Everything. According to environmental historian J.R. McNeill, female mosquitos, “Those tiny amazons conducted covert biological warfare against the British army.”

British captain Henry Clinton decided to send troops into the U.S. up through the Carolinas in 1779. However, he apparently didn’t know that the Carolinas became infested with malaria-carrying mosquitos every Spring and Summer. The worst sufferers were Europeans. So this had to be the worst possible strategy in history for trying to invade a country full of people already used to this infestation. In June 1780, after Cornwallis captures Charleston, the British decided to head inland at the height of mosquito season. By the time they were heading into battle most of the troops were debilitated with fever, including Cornwallis. Needless to say, things didn’t go well for them.

So, while we may be cursing them up and down right now, we should remember that these little pests may have played a big part in helping us gain our freedom.

Have mosquitos been pestering you this year? Did you know about the part they played in our war for freedom?