Mosquito

The mosquito is so common many of us underestimate their dangers – at our own peril.

By Brannen Basham

 

On the list of humankind’s most successful enemies, mosquitoes are undoubtedly among the top offenders.

Everyone is familiar with these common pests, who seek us out at all hours of the day in order to suck our blood.

Mosquitoes are so common that their true danger is usually underestimated. Do not be fooled – the raised, itchy skin left behind from a mosquito bite is the calling card of a wandering assassin that has inflicted unimaginable destruction upon our species.

While mosquitoes only drink small amounts of blood from their victim, several species are especially prone to spreading diseases such as malaria, yellow fever and West Nile virus to humans as they feed.

Through this secondary poisoning, mosquitoes are believed to be the most dangerous animals for humans on the planet, killing hundreds of thousands of people a year and severely impacting many more.

Luckily for us, there are very few species of these prime vectors of disease among the thousands of mosquito species in the world. Using groundbreaking new technology, scientists around the world have embarked on a quest to fight back against those specific tiny terrors.

Mosquitoes belong to the same order as flies, and like most other flies rely on nectar from flowers for food in their adult forms.

Males lack the ability to feed on blood entirely, and by constantly visiting flowers for food they supply a small amount of pollination to the blooms in their area. Rather than relying on blood for personal sustenance, female mosquitoes generally use nutritious blood to make eggs.

By injecting anticoagulants while they drink, female mosquitoes are able to collect enough blood from a single feeding to make a batch of eggs. These eggs are then laid on or around water in stagnant pools.

Young mosquitoes hang out in their pools for around a week, feeding on micro-organisms at the surface and breathing through a tube.

Most species enter the torpid state of diapause to survive the winter while young, however some also survive the cold as adults.

Mosquitoes are able to track down fresh blood by sight, and by detecting subtle chemicals in sweat and exhalations they can locate prey with pinpoint accuracy. For the majority of mosquitoes, humans are a second choice when it comes to feeding.

Most prefer the birds, mammals and other small animals in and around their area. By maintaining a property that offers housing to as much local wildlife as possible, the mosquitoes in your area will remain spread out among their prey.

Healthy ecosystems also readily control the mosquito populations in an area, since everything from birds, frogs, bats and dragonflies feed on mosquitoes whenever possible. 

Although scientists have not located any animals which rely solely on mosquitoes for food, they clearly play a large part in feeding a wide variety of backyard residents.

A handful of species are more likely than others to harbor and spread diseases to humans, and cutting edge science is being utilized to try and curb their influence.

By genetically engineering mosquitoes in labs and releasing them into wild populations, some scientists aim to make these populations either immune to human-borne diseases or unable to efficiently reproduce, reducing their numbers to a harmless state.

Other projects seek to engineer treatments that are more effective and precise than current insecticides, such as equipping fungi with toxin-producing spider genes to help destroy any mosquitoes they come into contact with.

While these techniques still require a good deal of testing until they are ready to be unleashed, perhaps one day we will have the capability to control the populations of dangerous mosquito populations without the wide use of indiscriminate chemical applications.

Brannen Basham and his wife, Jill Jacobs, operate Spriggly’s Beescaping, a business dedicated to the preservation of pollinators. He can be reached at brannen.basham@gmail.com.