SLAP! There lies a smashed mosquito on your arm. But you know there are quintillions more to replace that one. If you spend time outdoors you know about mosquitoes and their pesky bite and annoying buzzing around your head in a tent. But there is a lot more you don’t know about these blood suckers. Read on.
Mosquitoes like beer drinkers. Human skin and breath emit hundreds of chemical compounds and many of them attract mosquitoes. But there’s one that has been shown to attract the pests more than any other. A study done in Africa on malaria carrying mosquitoes found that they landed on people who drank beer far more often than on those who did not. Maybe it’s something in the blood.
They also like pregnant women. Pregnant women produce more carbon dioxide which attracts mosquitoes, plus the body temperature of pregnant women is slightly higher. This extra warmth has been shown to be an attractor.
There are 3,500 varieties of mosquitoes worldwide. More than 150 have been identified in the United States. About 650 varieties have been found in Brazil. A relatively small number of these species are blood suckers.
Most mosquitoes are vegetarians. Some varieties never bite mammals at all; they prefer sugars found in plants. Of those subspecies that do bite, only the females suck your blood. They need the proteins found in blood to nurture their eggs to maturity. So only a relatively small proportion of the overall population are blood suckers. But it’s enough.
They transmit at least five different diseases. Malaria is the most well known of mosquito-borne diseases, but cases of West Nile Virus are growing and may be the most dangerous in North America. Dengue fever is another disease transmitted by mosquitoes, as are yellow fever and encephalitis.
Mosquitoes hibernate. Most of the mosquitoes that survive the winter did so as eggs in the muddy bottom of some pond, but adult mosquitoes also can survive the winter if they can find a place to keep from freezing. Some caves, even in Minnesota, harbor millions of hibernating mosquitoes.
They have a set of pumps in their head. The little blood suckers do their dirty deed by inserting a bundle of microneedles (about the width of a human hair) into the skin, then using two tiny pumps inside their head to extract the blood.
They do not explode, sorry. Contrary to popular myth, you can’t make a mosquito explode by trapping its needle in your body. You’ve probably heard that by flexing your muscle you can keep them from pulling out and the blood just fills them up until the pop. Nope. They have a nerve in their abdomen that triggers the pumps in their head to stop filling once their abdomen becomes engorged. Researchers were able to sever this nerve in some individuals and those little suckers did overfill and explode. No doubt a satisfying moment.
You are allergic to their saliva. When they first insert their proboscis into your skin, they spit into you. Their saliva has an anticoagulant that keeps the blood from clotting while they suck it up. Compounds in this saliva trigger a release of histamine, which is part of your body’s defense system against allergies. This is what causes the swelling and itching.
They have a favorite color. Well sort of. Studies have shown that some colors of clothing, especially black, red and dark blue, attracted more mosquitoes. Because they home in on heat, some of the colors may be attractive because they are darker and collect more heat than light colored clothing. Mosquitoes are also attracted to movement. The researchers also theorized that the mosquitoes could better sense the movement of darker colors.
Now that you have a PhD in bloodsucking insect science, it may disappoint you to know there is still not much you can do about the pesky micro-critters. But at least you know more about mosquitoes than everyone else around the campfire.
Follow Bernie’s bowhunting adventures on his blog, bowhuntingroad.com.