Mosquitoes are known and widely disliked for their tendency to suck blood from a piece of exposed skin at dusk and leave a red bump that itches continuously for days. Not only are they annoying – with the buzzing and biting – but they can also be fatal if they transmit diseases like Zika, West Nile, and malaria. With climate change bringing more heat and moisture to the Midwest and East Coast, the mosquito season is getting longer. Learn about these insects that you are likely to become more familiar with over time.
1. Mosquitoes sniff out their victims
Natural body odors and the carbon dioxide that people exhale excite and attract mosquitoes, which is why we hear them hum around our heads so often. In fact, they can spy on a host from 100 feet away. However, researchers have found that certain scents – some minty, others fruity, one like caramelized chocolate – can actually inhibit the animals’ carbon dioxide-sensitive neurons, making it harder for them to find their next meal. This is how lemon eucalyptus, also known as citronella, works. Wind can also help mask mosquito-attracting odors.
2. Male mosquitoes do not bite
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that only female mosquitoes bite. They rely on the protein from blood meals to produce their eggs, but they also drink it to stay hydrated. The more thirsty they are, the more aggressive they become. Men, on the other hand, only eat flower nectar, plant sap, honeydew and anything else that contains the sugars necessary for energy and survival.
3. They become better hunters when infected
Female mosquitoes are already insatiable bloodthirsty, but researchers have found that those infected with the dengue virus, which they can transmit to humans, are even hungrier for the red stuff. The virus provides them with the perfect cocktail for consuming blood: it manipulates the insect’s genes to make it thirstier, while improving the mosquito’s sense of smell, which in turn increases its ability to recognize potential hosts.
4. Mosquitoes with parasites are even more bloodthirsty
Parasites not only live and feed on mosquitoes, but the clever moochers can also manipulate the behavior of their host to increase their probability of spreading. Research has shown that mosquitoes infected with the malaria parasite desire longer and more frequent blood meals than uninfected mosquitoes in order to improve the chance of a human host. Other research has found that mosquitoes with malaria are also attracted to the smell of human sweat, as shown by experiments with worn socks.
5. Your spit makes your skin itchy
When a mosquito has a target in its sights, it arm itself, bombs bombs and inserts its microscopic proboscis into the victim’s skin. As she sucks blood, she leaves a drop of saliva that acts as an anticoagulant (to prevent clotting) so she can feast more efficiently. Most people have a natural immune response to mosquito eaters that results in histamines and itching for up to seven days after being bitten. Contrary to popular belief, not many people are allergic to mosquito saliva.
6. Not all mosquitoes can transmit the West Nile virus
Of the thousands of known mosquito species, the West Nile virus was found in only about 65. (It is also found in more than 200 vertebrates.) The virus usually alternates between species of Culex mosquitoes and common city birds such as robins, northern cardinals, and house sparrows. Nearly 80 percent of people infected with the virus do not show symptoms, ranging from mild irritation and numbness to coma and death.
7. You can be the reason Alexander the Great died
Alexander the Great, King of Macedonia and conqueror of the Persian Empire, never lost a battle and is considered one of the most successful commanders in history. However, he is said to have been defeated by a mosquito infected with West Nilecephalitis at the age of 32. Previous theories about his death included poisoning and infection, but recent research suggests a solitary mosquito as the likely cause of death.
8. You are pretty slow
As vicious as the maneaters are, they move at a surprisingly fast pace. The average mosquito weighs 2 to 2.5 milligrams and appears to enable them to fly fast, but not like that. Instead, they fly at speeds between 1 and 1.5 miles per hour, making them one of the slowest flying insects of all. A dragonfly can travel around 35 miles per hour by comparison.
9. Mosquitoes are the deadliest animals in the world
Beware of the dangers of tigers, sharks and snakes? No fear the mosquito, the deadliest creature on the planet. Thanks to the help of insects in spreading malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, encephalitis and a host of other deadly diseases, mosquitoes cause more deaths than any other animal. A single malaria mosquito can infect more than 100 people. According to the World Health Organization, malaria kills one child every minute in Africa.
Protect yourself from mosquito bites
- The CDC recommends wearing clothing that completely covers arms and legs and covering small strollers and carriers with mosquito nets.
- Use an EPA-registered insect repellent such as lemon eucalyptus oil (OLE) to repel mosquitoes outdoors, especially in the morning and evening light. Keep in mind that some natural repellants are not registered with the EPA and the CDC is unaware of their effectiveness.
- While some mosquito-borne diseases, such as zika and dengue fever, cannot be prevented by a vaccine, others can. If you are planning to travel to a high-risk area like remote parts of Africa and Asia, the CDC (and in some countries) recommends getting vaccinated against yellow fever and taking anti-malarial drugs during and after your trip.