Have you ever wondered why the 3,000 species of female mosquitoes bite some people more often than others? And why are those welts so doggone itchy?
The females are the egg producers and need blood to fertilize their eggs. They lay multiple sets of eggs and need a blood meal for each group. Mosquitoes’ primary source of food is sugar, not blood. Both sexes eat mainly plant nectar and fruit juices. These sugars provide the energy they need to fly. They have to eat daily, and spend more time eating than biting.
You could be one hundred feet from a female mosquito and she will find you. Mosquitoes use the carbon dioxide that we and other mammals exhale as their primary cue to our location. Once they have landed, they rely on attractants like folic acid to convince them that we are an acceptable blood host. Sometimes perfumes, soap and hairspray can conceal these chemical cues. They can see your clothing, and if it moves they recognize life and hence an impending blood meal. Female mosquitoes, if close enough, can detect your body heat and they love perspiration.
What about those pesky mosquito welts? When the female bite pierces the skin, she injects a touch of saliva, which contains an anti-clotting chemical, so she can efficiently suck the blood through her tiny feeding canal without it clogging. The welt, an allergic reaction to the saliva, normally disappears in one day, but some people are super sensitive and can experience problems for a week or more.
Organized mosquito control is essential to protect both humans and animals from disease. In some parts of Africa mosquitoes transmit malaria and yellow fever by taking deadly parasites from one source and depositing them into her next host. Thankfully, the AIDS virus cannot be transferred by her bite, because she eats the virus as food. Dogs can contract heart worm from mosquito bites, when a potentially fatal worm grows in their hearts. Scientists are seeking a molecule that is harmless to humans, but would force the mosquitoes to hold onto nitrogen, which would kill both the females and their progeny-thus slowing down the spread of disease. In a world where both mosquitoes and the diseases they carry are becoming resistant to insecticides and medicines, finding new ways to fight them is crucial.
If you have a propensity to mosquito bites, there are some precautions you can take to minimize and possibly eliminate these annoying insects. Mosquitoes spend a lot of time in standing water before reaching adulthood. So you must eliminate as much water as you can, like old tires, tin cans and clogged roof gutters. Unused wading pools should be turned upside down; birdbaths and fountains should be changed every three days. Insecticide control may help, but overuse is counter-productive. If you are out and about and the mosquitoes are abounding, there are repellents that provide relief; creams, lotions and aerosol sprays for your limbs and torso. Mosquitoes are cold blooded, liking a temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and slow down when the weather cools to 60 degrees. If it’s below 50 degrees, they’re in hibernation.
Did you know that New Jersey is unofficially known as the “mosquito state?” Out of the 150 species in North America, 63 are living in Jersey? That’s a lot of mosquitoes! How many pints of blood is that anyway?