Alaskans who believe artificial intelligence is intelligent can now throw away all their smelly, plastic-eating, DEET-filled insect repellent.
ChatGPT, the artificial intelligence chatbot launched in November of last year, has concluded Alaska is the state home to the fewest mosquitoes.
But – and there’s often a but with new technology – ChatGPT’s “notable drawback” is, as Wikipedia also notes, “its tendency to confidently provide inaccurate information.”
Folks over at Reddit, the internet site reserved for people with inane questions and too much time on their hands, are having a field day with ChatGPT’s inaccurate information in this case although it might not be all that inaccurate depending on how you look at it.
It’s all in the context. But more on that later.
First the reality of Alaska in summer.
No safe spaces
This is the state famous for having so many mosquitoes even caribou run for cover or, more accurately, the nearest snowfield above which there is colder air that mosquitoes tend to avoid.
Why do they run in fear?
Because a caribou can lose almost four and half pounds of blood to mosquitoes each year, according to researchers who have studied the pesky insects of which the National Park Service has estimated there are 17 trillion in the 49th state.
If that number is right, there are about 2,000 times as many mosquitoes in Alaska as there are humans on the entire globe. Talk about an overpopulation problem.
The biomass of these Alaska mosquitoes has been calculated at 96 million pounds of flying flesh eaters, which is a serious shitton of trouble or, to be exact, 48,000 tons.
This gives those blood-sucking little monsters a biomass at least three times greater than the approximately 30,000 brown/grizzly bears so many people fear.
And at least the bears you can see coming. The skeeters often appear out of nowhere like the Japanese Zeros at Pearl Harbor in 1941, and then sometimes create so much noise buzzing around your head they can near drive you nuts.
Fear the skeeter
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 1961 described Alaska mosquitoes as “one of the principal obstacles to development of this region,” and noted they’d been bugging white men since their first arrival in the north.
The agency’s 98-page, Agricultural Handbook No. 182 – The Mosquitoes of Alaska – explored at length various efforts that had been undertaken to reduce the plague of the little, summer blood-suckers in Alaska in the post-World War II years and concluded nothing much worked all that well.
Still, the handbook conceded that the skeeters were primarily a problem only in the months of June and July in most of the state, and there is the rub that might make ChatGPT possibly right about Alaska having fewer mosquitoes than other states while leaving the erroneous impression people can move north and avoid these pests.
The issue is with seasonal production.
The lifespans of mosquitoes show considerable variation, but on average across the spectrum of mosquito species, they live for about two weeks, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Figure that Alaska’s mosquito production season starts about mid-May and ends about mid-September, and you’re looking at only about eight generations of mosquitoes per year.
In a southern state like Florida, mosquito production goes on year round with a big peak during the rainy season from May to October.
“In North Florida, mosquito season usually begins in March since temperatures are a bit cooler in the fall and winter months,” reports ClickOrlanda.com. “For South Florida, the season is pretty much year-long since temperatures don’t dip as low as often. Here in Central Florida, the season is kind of in the middle. It gets cold enough to kill off the mosquitoes (less than 50 degrees), but it warms up fairly quicker than our friends to the north, making mosquitoes a bit more active earlier in the year.”
Given Florida’s warm climate, it can grow a lot of mosquitoes in April, early May, late September and October – when Alaska is growing few if any – and it can grow mosquitoes from November through March when Alaska is guaranteed not to be growing any.
This applies to all of the states to a lesser and lesser extent as one moves north from the tropical climate of southern Florida into the continental and temperate zones on the way to the chillier subarctic and the cold of the Arctic.
And the climate of Alaska is primarily Arctic and sub-Arctic meaning, you guessed it, that on an annual basis, Alaska probably is home to the fewest mosquitoes of any of the states.
But it doesn’t matter when you’re buried in a July swarm of the little bastards because the issue isn’t with total annual numbers but with concentrations.
If you’re walking around on a football field home to 200 mosquitoes, you’re probably not going to notice too much of a mosquito problem. If you’re zipped into a two-person tent with 200 of them, they’re going to be something of a nightmare until you kill a bunch of the bastards.
This might have been what ChatGPT was “thinking,” but if it was, it didn’t do a very good job of explaining. Still, there are indications it had the general idea right:
“States in the northern part of the United States, such as Alaska, Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota, generally experience fewer mosquitoes compared to states in the southern regions.”
It just didn’t explain why this might be or expand on its caveat that “even in states with fewer mosquitoes, certain regions with those states or specific times of year might still have significant mosquito populations.”
The latter sentence perfectly defines Alaska where the specific time of year is the summer when mosquitoes can sometimes be so “significant” you wonder if they might not carry you away.
That said, at least one of ChatGPT’s several answers to the mosquito question, was a real head-scratcher.
When it ranked the states with “relatively fewer mosquitoes,” Alaska was number one “due to its colder climate and extensive wilderness.”
The colder climate part is certainly true. You won’t see any mosquitoes out in Alaska when it is 50-degrees-below zero.
The wilderness part, however, is just plain wrong as one photo from the state’s wild North Slope posted on the Facebook page of The Alaska Life can attest: