- Scientists wanted to find out why mosquitoes love the taste of blood so much and how they can recognize blood in the first place.
- Using various mixes and preparations, the team determined that it is indeed the needle-like stylet that the insects suck with that does the “tasting”.
- It is full of neurons that recognize certain components of the blood and trigger the intense suction.
I live in a state where mosquitoes are a big problem for several months a year. I also seem to have been blessed with particularly tasty blood, as the annoying little bugs always flock to me while my wife and friends remain largely untouched. It’s weird, and I’ve always wondered why a mosquito would prefer my blood – or blood in general – to other things it might eat, like high-sugar nectar.
A new study published in the journal Neuron examines this phenomenon very closely, hoping to find out what the blood is about that makes it so delicious for mosquitoes. As it turns out, in the needle-like stiletto of mosquitoes, some very complex things happen that cause them to suck as hard as possible.
The scientists tested female mosquitoes – the ones that bite you – with various preparations to see how they responded. They tested sugary mixtures such as nectar and various “blood recipes” that contained some components of human blood in different concentrations. They discovered that while mosquitoes can taste and drink nectar, they don’t sip it with the same passion that they make blood with.
“When a female mosquito pierces the skin, it sucks so hard that the capillaries sometimes collapse,” said Leslie Vosshall of Rockefeller University, co-author of the study, in a statement. “It’s behavior that she reserves specifically for blood.”
When testing various blood cocktails, the team found that neurons in the mosquito’s stiletto are activated when they encounter different blood components. Some are activated by salt and others by sugar, but blood is a whole different story. Even when dummy blood was used in combination with airborne carbon dioxide (a trigger that tells mosquitoes they are feeding on a human) and heat, the mosquitoes would not be fooled.
However, when the full list of fake blood ingredients – glucose (sugar), salt, sodium bicarbonate, and adenosine triphosphate – was combined, the mosquitoes began to devour the liquid at a breakneck pace. The neurons that respond to each of these ingredients must all be triggered before the mosquito can actually dive in for a full stomach meal.
This is especially interesting because it means that the needle-like appendix that mosquitoes carry around is actually what the “tasting” does. That was something that wasn’t exactly expected, and it’s a pretty remarkable evolutionary twist. As the scientists say, it is essentially “a syringe that can taste blood”.
Mike Wehner has covered technology and video games for the past decade, covering the latest news and trends in VR, wearables, smartphones and future technology. Mike most recently served as Tech Editor for The Daily Dot and has been featured on USA Today, Time.com, and countless other web and printing companies. His love of reporting is second only to his gambling addiction.