Who hasn't had an encounter with a mosquito? From the backwoods to our backyards, mosquitoes seem determined to make us miserable. Besides disliking their painful bites, mosquitoes concern us as vectors of diseases, from West Nile virus to malaria.
It's easy to recognize a mosquito when it lands on your arm and bites you. Most people don't take a close look at this insect, tending instead to slap it the moment it bites. Members of the family Culicidae do exhibit common characteristics, if you can bear to spend a moment examining them.
Mosquitoes belong to the suborder Nematocera – true flies with long antennae. Mosquito antennae have 6 or more segments. The male's antennae are quite plumose, providing lots of surface area for detecting female mates. Female antennae are short-haired.
Mosquito wings have scales along the veins and the margins. The mouthparts – a long proboscis – allow the adult mosquito to drink nectar, and in the case of the female, blood.
Larvae feed on organic matter in the water, including algae, protozoans, decaying debris, and even other mosquito larvae. Adult mosquitoes of both sexes feed on nectar from flowers. Only females require a bloodmeal in order to produce eggs. The female mosquito may feed on blood of birds, reptiles, amphibians, or mammals (including humans).
Mosquitoes undergo complete metamorphosis with four stages. The female mosquito lays her eggs on the surface of fresh or standing water; some species lay eggs on damp soil prone to inundation. Larvae hatch and live in the water, most using a siphon to breathe at the surface. Within one to two weeks, the larvae pupate. Pupae cannot feed, but can be active while floating on the water's surface. Adults emerge, usually in just a few days, and sit on the surface until they are dry and ready to fly. Adult females live two weeks to two months; adult males may only live a week.
Special Adaptations and Defenses:
Male mosquitoes use their plumose antennae to sense the species-specific buzzing of females. The mosquito produces its "buzz" by fluttering its wings up to 250 times per second.
Females seek bloodmeal hosts by detecting carbon dioxide and octenol produced in breath and sweat. When a female mosquito senses CO2 in the air, she flies upwind until she finds the source. Mosquitoes don't require blood to live, but need the proteins in a bloodmeal to develop their eggs.
Range and Distribution:
Mosquitoes of the family Culicidae live worldwide, except in Antarctica, but require habitat with standing or slow moving fresh water for young to develop.