17 actually worthwhile things to know about mosquitoes

ATanjim Hossain is an NSF graduate research fellow at the University of Miami. His research focuses on the intersection of microclimatology and mosquito vector ecology from an epidemiological perspective. Follow him on twitter here

BuzzFeed: the epitome of unnecessary hyperbole and an amalgam of often unoriginal content. I’ve long been convinced that this website is a waste of time and that it parrots bullshit in exchange for pageviews. Imagine my surprise, then, when I saw a recent article headlined, “17 Things Only Chronic Mosquito Victims Will Understand.”For a brief moment I was encouraged, hopeful even, that BuzzFeed might have turned a page and published something worth reading. You, wise reader, likely know this this turned out. Below I present 17 things which I think are actually worth knowing relevant to mosquitoes.

1. BuzzFeed: “Each summer the mosquitos [sic] descend and you have to endure three months of your personal living hell.

Across the tropics, mosquitoes are active throughout the year. This simple fact means that disease transmission (mosquitoes are vectors of deadly pathogens like malaria, dengue, yellow fever, chikungunya, and others) can occur for extended periods. Literally billions of people are at risk in places like sub-Saharan Africa, and millions die from the bite of a mosquito. So, you know, maybe it’s not so bad where you live.

2. BuzzFeed: Every day you have to make the choice: fresh air or feast (where YOU are the feast).

Contrary to popular knowledge, mosquitoes can bloodfeed on a number of different animals including monkeys, reptiles, and caterpillars. In fact, some mosquitoes’ propensity to bloodfeed on birds means that our avian friends can act as natural reservoirs of diseases like Eastern equine encephalitis. Furthermore, some mosquitoes, like those in the genus Toxorhynchites don’t bloodfeed at all, preferring instead to spend their lives drinking nectar and other plant juices.

3. BuzzFeed: Forget perfume – your signature scent is Aerogard.

DEET and picaridin, the chemical backbone of many consumer insect repellents, are generally considered safe and effective in terms of human health and the environment. For more lasting protection from mosquito bites, you can soak your clothes in a dilute concentration of permethrin (legal disclosure?). Stay away from pseudoscientific snake oil treatments like wristbands – the FDA singled these out for being completely ineffective.

4. BuzzFeed: You seriously consider bailing on outdoor events because it’s just too risky.

I’ll give credit to BuzzFeed here. Risk to human health from mosquito bites is poorly perceived by the public. Here in Miami, many folks don’t know how thin a line there is between the current mostly disease-free situation and the threat of dengue and chikungunya. It’s all the more disappointing in malaria-endemic Africa where most of the population treats it like the common cold or flu and not the serious problem it is. Last year, the Gates Foundation released this infographic detailing the absurdity of scaled risk between different animals. How many people do you know that are worried about shark bites when they should be more concerned about malaria?


5. BuzzFeed: No matter how many people you’re with, the mozzies always manage to find you.

Mosquitoes are attracted to a number of things including: carbon dioxide, lactic acid, sweat, warmth, and humidity. One famously fun study specifically found that mosquitoes are attracted to smelly foot odor. Generally speaking, if you’re active around mosquitoes around dawn or dusk (mosquitoes are crepuscular) or disturb their resting habitat throughout the day, they’ll find you.

6. BuzzFeed: You feel instant panic whenever you hear that “buzzing” sound.

That buzzing sound is produced by the mosquito’s wings beating three to six hundred times per second.

7. BuzzFeed: Especially when you’ve just settled down to sleep, and everything is quiet, and you’re relaxed, and then – BZZZZZZZ.

In some species, mating pairs will synchronize their wingbeats to the same frequency.

8. Buzzfeed: You try to ignore it and hope it goes away. BUT IT JUST KEEPS BUZZING.

Mosquitoes of the genus Anopheles, the vectors of malaria, are classically considered nighttime biters. With the spread of popular mosquito control methods however, they are biting earlier and earlier in the evening. In doing so, people are now put at risk of being bitten before they have gone to bed under the relative safety of a bed net.

9. BuzzFeed: In desperation, you spray the whole room with fly spray, because breathing is a lower priority than destroying the sucker.

Indoor residual spraying (IRS) is a mosquito control method in which a dwelling’s walls are coated with insecticide. The idea is that right after a mosquito feeds on you, it needs to go ‘rest’ somewhere nearby, often on your wall. This contact will be fatal to the insects in a home treated with IRS.

10. BuzzFeed: In the morning you still wake up covered with bites.

Some people can develop a kind of ‘immunity’ to mosquito bites. Scientists who rear mosquitoes in their labs will sometimes place their arms inside cages with hundreds or even thousands of mosquitoes to allow them to bloodfeed – eventually, the scientists’ arms no longer show signs of having being bitten.

11. BuzzFeed: You try to resist the urge to scratch, knowing it will make it worse.

Take comfort in the fact that you are one of many who have made for the provenance of countless new mosquitoes. The mosquitoes use the protein in your blood to manufacture eggs which they will consecutively lay in an aquatic environment to give rise to the next generation.

12. BuzzFeed: Finally you give in, and feel that sweet relief.

Mosquito bites itch because of an anticoagulant the mosquito injects into your skin to prevent your blood from clotting as they are feeding. The little bump and itchy sensation are an allergic reaction.

13. BuzzFeed: Until five seconds later, when you feel ten times as itchy as before.

There are dozens of ‘natural’ cures or solutions to stop mosquito bites from itching. I stick to simple topical creams that contain hydrocortisone – they work.

14. BuzzFeed: You’re slowly losing your mind, when suddenly a mosquito lands on you. And you’re glad.

The time it takes from when a mosquito lands on you to when it starts bloodfeeding can be as much as a minute or more. Yours truly (in the name of science) had one mosquito spend almost 3 minutes inserting, removing, and reinserting her proboscis into my arm in failed attempts to find a suitable capillary.

15. BuzzFeed: Because revenge is sweet.

Bloodfeeding can be risky, so mosquitoes like to maximize their gain whenever they partake. If you look closely, you can sometimes see a mosquito ‘pooping’ excess water from its abdomen while it’s feeding so as to concentrate and hold more red blood cells.

16. BuzzFeed: With a zen-like calm borne out of madness, you nail that bastard.

You might be in for a scarlet surprise. Psorophora ciliata have been known to engorge on up to ~30 milligrams of blood in one feeding so squishing one of these lovely ladies could spew your own blood right onto your skin.

17. BuzzFeed: And then one of his brothers comes back for your blood.

It’s always good to end on a completely false note. There won’t be any ‘brothers’ coming back for your blood because only female mosquitoes bloodfeed. The males are sugarfeeders e.g. they like plant nectar.