Mosquitoes are insects which belong to the order Diptera (pronounced DYE-puh-TEE-ree). They are small, winged insects with two pairs of wings, but they have three pairs of legs. Their bodies are covered with fine hairs called setae. These setae serve as sensory organs for detecting vibrations in their environments, such as the movement of air currents or other objects.
What Do Mosquitoes Eat?
The larvae of mosquitoes feed on blood, secretions from glands located near the mouthparts, and other fluids found in the body. Larvae usually remain attached to their host until they pupate into adults. Adults are very small wingless insects with no eyes or antennae. They lack setae and rely solely on the sense of smell to detect food sources. Adult mosquitoes cannot fly; instead, they crawl along surfaces using specialized muscles in their abdomen. They are capable of flying only when feeding.
The saliva contains sugars, fats, amino acids, proteins, vitamins, anti-freezes, and drugs. The mixture is so nutritious that it acts as a substitute for blood in the mosquito’s diet. Some mosquitoes also feed on plant juices or nectar.
Mosquitoes primarily feed at night.
Can Mosquitoes Transmit Diseases?
Mosquito larvae are often used as a vector to transmit diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, and West Nile virus. Every year many thousands of people die from these diseases. Malaria infects more than 200 million people a year, causing more than a million deaths, while dengue fever infects upwards of 400 million people a year.
Yellow fever is another mosquito-borne disease that kills hundreds of thousands of people every year. They are predators that feed on other insects and sometimes on smaller vertebrate animals. Most mosquitoes only live for one to two months. When they mature, female mosquitoes seek a suitable place to lay their eggs.
After feeding, the mosquito prepares to rest for the rest of the night. It does this by sealing its spiracles (tubes that lead from the lungs) with a special secretion. West Nile virus, which first infected humans in the West Nile region of Africa, has infected people all over the United States and is not limited to the west coast. There is no vaccine for any of these diseases.
A mosquito’s life cycle lasts from one to several weeks depending upon temperature and rainfall conditions. During this time, a female mosquito lays up to 200 eggs in batches of 50–100 each day. Eggs hatch after approximately 20 days when temperatures reach between 40°C and 45°C. After hatching, the young mosquitoes emerge as fully formed adult mosquitoes within 10–14 days. Mosquito eggs are light brown in color and resemble tiny popcorn kernels inside a shell. These glands produce a sweet liquid that the mosquito sucks up into its mouth.
Mosquito eggs hatch in about three days when temperatures are between 21°C and 29°C. The young mosquitoes grow very quickly. They become adults in about two weeks when temperatures range from 20°C to 31°C. They cannot jump or fly and usually live for about three months. They do not bite or sting and do no physical harm to their host; they only feed and breed on the host’s blood. Body lice can be treated with over-the-counter insecticides but do not carry any disease. Adult mosquitoes feed on plant nectar and fruit. They don’t typically bite unless they are disturbed, such as by being stepped on.