Mosquitoes seem to be just about everywhere during the spring, summer, and fall. But even though they are so familiar, many people don’t know a lot about these pests. In fact, you could say that mosquitoes are one of the most misunderstood bugs that we see on a regular basis. So here to set the record straight are some things you didn’t know about mosquitoes.
How many mosquitoes are there?
It’s next to impossible to calculate the number of individual mosquitoes in the world. First of all, they have very short lifespans. Mosquitoes are constantly dying and being born. We do know that the number is in the trillions. There are around 3,500 species of mosquito in the world, with about 175 active in the United States. The most common mosquitoes in the U.S. are of the genera Culex, Anopheles, and Aedes. In Georgia, we see all three types of common mosquitoes.
How dangerous are mosquitoes?
You’d be surprised just how dangerous mosquitoes are. When it comes to human deaths, mosquitoes are possibly the single most dangerous animal on the planet. Sure, lions, tigers, and bears are scary, but they rarely kill people. Mosquitoes, on the other hand, are responsible for millions of human deaths a year, and as many as 700 million infections.
Before you get any ideas about ferocious mosquitoes chomping down on humans, we should clarify. Mosquitoes don’t kill people directly. They carry deadly diseases that kill people. The most deadly mosquito-borne illness is malaria. Each year around 500 million people contract malaria from a mosquito bite. 90% of those are in Africa. About 2.7 million of those will die of the disease. This makes mosquitoes the indirect cause of more human deaths than any other animal on the planet.
Not all mosquitoes bite.
Of the 3,500 species of mosquitoes in the world, only a few bite humans. Unfortunately, the most common mosquitoes in the United States all bite humans. But only half of the mosquito population are biters. Only female mosquitoes bite. That’s because mosquitoes don’t feed on blood. The protein in the blood is used to help develop the eggs that the female mosquito will lay. But the blood provides no nutrition to the mosquito herself.
To get technical about it, mosquitoes don’t exactly bite at all. Mosquitoes don’t have teeth. Instead, a mosquito “bite” is actually more of a piercing. A female mosquito lands on a host and user her proboscis, a long tube-like mouthpart, to pierce the skin and access the blood.
Why do mosquito bites itch?
While mosquitoes can carry deadly diseases in some parts of the world, the most common symptom of mosquito bites is that annoying itch. The itch is actually caused by an allergic reaction. So is that telltale red bump.
When the female mosquito pierces the skin, she injects a small amount of saliva into the bite. The saliva acts as an anticoagulant. That’s just a fancy way of saying it keeps the blood from clumping up, so she can take her full blood meal. But most people are allergic to the saliva, and that’s what causes the bump and the itch. Not everyone is equally allergic, though. Some people who are especially sensitive will feel like they are getting lots of bits. They may claim they are being eaten alive. People who are less allergic may get some bites but hardly notice them.
Mosquitoes really do bite some people more than others.
Some luck folks just seem not to get bitten by mosquitoes. Others who are less lucky seem to get bitten no matter what they do to avoid it. The good news is that it’s not just in your head. Research has shown that some people are more attractive to mosquitoes than others.
Mosquitoes find their hosts mostly by smell. The main thing they’re sniffing for is carbon dioxide. When any mammal exhales, they release carbon dioxide. However, there are other aspects of smell that also affect a mosquito’s level of attraction. That smell can come from sweat as well as the unique mix of bacteria that live on an individual’s skin. In general, people with a greater variety of bacteria seem to get fewer bites. But it’s still unclear which, if any, bacteria are the ones that really attract the mosquitoes.
Mosquitoes like beer drinkers.
This one is just unfortunate. What is more relaxing than a cold beer at a summer barbecue. But it turns out that drinking beer makes you more attractive to mosquitoes. In general, any alcohol can make you more attractive to mosquitoes than no alcohol. Alcohol can make you sweat more. It also causes your capillaries to expand, sending more blood to the surface of your skin and raising its temperature. Sweat and heat are two things that mosquitoes look for to detect their hosts. So alcohol is like turning on a beacon for mosquitoes. But in addition to the effects of alcohol in general, beer drinkers seem to be especially attractive. Researchers are still not sure why.
Mosquitoes are not very good fliers.
Mosquitoes don’t fly very far or very fast. Most common mosquitoes won’t fly more than a few hundreds yard from where they were hatched in their whole lives. In addition, they tend to fly low to the ground, within about 25 feet. They are also terribly slow, with a top speed of about 1.5 miles per hour. Since they rarely fly in a perfectly straight line, even that number can be deceptive. A mosquito will rarely actually travel from one point to another at 1.5 miles per hour.
Mosquitoes are also not particularly strong fliers. This might not be too surprising since they are small and weigh very little. But a breeze of even a few miles an hour can be too much, grounding mosquitoes or at least inhibiting their movement. That means that something as simple as an oscillating fan can keep mosquitoes out of a small area. So if you’re sitting outside on a hot summer day, break out a fan. It will keep you cool and help keep the mosquitoes at bay.
Professional spraying is one of the most effective ways of controlling mosquitoes.
There is a lot of research on various means of controlling mosquitoes. While there are lots of promising methods, most of them either affect only a small area, don’t last long, or both. Repellents like citronella affect a very limited area and only last as long as the repellent is present. Mosquito traps can catch lots of mosquitoes but are rarely effective enough to really prevent mosquitoes.