Mosquitoes 101: Buzz and Bite

Nearly everyone has had some kind of run-in with a mosquito. These tiny pests are not just annoying. Many species are dangerous. Mosquitoes transmit disease, and some of those diseases are deadly. They include malaria, yellow fever, Zika Virus, West Nile Virus and La Crosse Virus.

large mosquito up close

What Are Mosquitoes?

Mosquitoes are flying insects. Their name comes from the word that means “little fly.” Mosquitoes can be told by their round head, which is attached to their thorax by a short and slender neck. The head has two compound eyes and segmented antennae right in front of their eyes. A layperson can tell the sex of a mosquito through its antennae, for the female’s antennae are like wires while the male mosquito’s antennae are plumed.

The mosquito’s proboscis is also found on the head, and the proboscis of the female is made to pierce skin and suck blood. One part is a channel through which she injects saliva, which has an anticoagulant that dilutes the victim’s blood. The proboscis of the male mosquito can’t pierce skin, so it can’t bite. Male mosquitoes get their nourishment from visiting flowers and sucking up nectar.

The mosquito’s thorax is triangular, and it has long, slender legs made up of five joints. It has two wings, and scientists can tell mosquitoes apart by how the veins in their wings are arranged.

Mosquitoes are most active at dusk and dawn, but some mosquitoes, such as the Aedus, bite all day long. Summer is peak mosquito season, though they’ll bite year round. Mosquitoes can bite over and over till they get their fill of blood. They’ll rest for a couple of days, lay a clutch of eggs, then hunt for prey all over again. They are attracted by the carbon dioxide that humans and other animals give off when they breathe, and some people are mosquito targets. Scientists don’t know why this is.

Reproduction

Mosquitoes always lay their eggs in or near water or even in dry places that are likely to become flooded. They don’t like to lay eggs in moving bodies of water that can wash their eggs away.

At first, the aquatic larvae are almost too small to be seen, but they grow much larger over the days. Depending on the species, the mosquito stays in the larval stage from four to five days to four to five weeks. After this, the larva pupates. It is a pupa for four to five days, then the skin splits down its back, and the adult pulls itself free. This always happens on a sunny day because the mosquito needs to dry off before it can fly. Though the lifespans of mosquitos are different for different species, they live about two weeks. Females live much longer than males.

Signs of Infestation

If there are areas of stagnant water around the home and there are a lot of mosquitoes, the homeowner can be certain they have an infestation. Another sign is frequent mosquito bites. They start to swell and itch because the person’s body produces histamines to counteract the anticoagulant.

Mosquitoes love to be near places where there’s standing water, and they’re most active in weather that’s warm and wet. The males are attracted to flowers, and the females are attracted to dark clothing and flowery smelling perfume. People who sweat a lot also find mosquitoes a problem, as are people who eat a great deal of salt and potassium. They’re also lured by lactic acid, people with type O blood, pregnant women and people with a higher body temperature.

How to Prevent Mosquitoes

Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to prevent mosquito bites. One is to apply bug spray that contains DEET to clothes and skin and even around the property. A person should wear long pants and shirts with long sleeves when they go outside and should avoid going outside at dawn or dusk. Put screens in windows and keep them shut, and most important, remove any source of stagnant water. If there’s a pond on the property, it should be stocked with fish that eat mosquitoes such as mosquito fish, and swimming pools must be kept clean and chlorinated.