The nerve of that little lady, the size and weight of a grape seed, to sneak up on us gorging herself on our blood. One week ago I succumbed to mosquito bites at the Audubon Sanctuary even after smacking several during the evening.
This past July I noticed 1/2-inch (one centimeter) thin wiggling worms in the six-foot diameter rubber swimming pool set up in the backyard to cool our dog on those 90-degree Fahrenheit days. Could these be mosquito larvae, I asked my visiting son-in-law, Tim? He thought so. Later, in August I discovered these wiggling worms in the water inside truck tires behind Southwestern Central High School where I walked my dog. I scooped them up in a glass jar then waited to see if they turned into mosquitoes; sure enough one did and escaped in my house!
Authors Andrew Spielman and Michael D'Antonio in their book, ''Mosquito,'' describe how mosquito larvae, about one centimeter long, wiggle like a snake head with its tail up. The larvae must rise to the water surface to breathe air through a tube in the tail. Feeding occurs when whiskers around the head and mouth parts create water currents sweeping microorganisms into their mouth. Ten days later, weather permitting, the larvae develop into a C-shaped, chunky pupae. About two days later, fully developed mosquitoes emerge from the pupae stage and are capable of walking on water. Within an hour the skin and wings dry and they are ready for flight. The female is ready to mate but the male must wait 24 hours for his sexual organs to rotate in the proper direction. The whining of the female's wings attracts a male who clutches her while they drift to the ground. He crawls under her to mate. The female now searches for a blood meal needed to nourish her eggs. Only the female seeks a blood meal, usually from birds or humans and other mammals. The male feeds on nectar and rotting fruit as will the female to supplement her blood diet.
This image demonstrates the two water stages of mosquito development. The long thin larva is breathing at the water surface and the C shaped pupa rests before becoming an adult mosquito.
Photo by Robert Ungerer
This lady mosquito relies on specialized senses to find a source of blood. While she has no ''brain,'' entomologists (insect experts) realize she ''thinks with her skin.'' She finds her victims by detecting their motion, recognizing exhaled carbon dioxide and feeling the warmth of exposed skin. She navigates by the stars. She alights undetected on the skin of her victim. Her proboscis or mouth parts probe the skin. Two sharp stylets pierce the skin like an electric knife. Two tubes between the stylets inject a fluid that prevents blood coagulation. She sucks in blood for 90 seconds, gaining two to three times her weight. She flies, wings beating 250 times per second, and then rests on a wall or tree while her digestive tract removes water from the blood excreting it out her anus. The itchy raised red spot we see on our skin resulting from her bite is caused by chemicals in her saliva.
Aided by the nutrition of her blood meal, her eggs mature and are laid in pond water or in woodland pools. Several days later the eggs hatch into larvae, develop into pupae and emerge as adult mosquitoes to the start the life cycle again. In temperate climates like New York state, the cycle is interrupted by winter when mosquito eggs freeze but thaw and hatch in the spring.
Humans' swats are not the only enemies of the mosquito. Water spiders glide over water feeding on mosquito larvae that surface to breathe. Bats, dragonflies and the gecko eat mosquitoes. A bacteria found in the Israeli desert infects and kills mosquito larvae. Globally, this bacterium is used as an environmental friendly insecticide.
While most detest the mosquito, one can appreciate its strong survival instinct considering the life expectancy is only five months. The mosquito has been a scourge of the human race. Even today three million people, mostly children, die from mosquito-transmitted malaria. Miss Mosquito's middle name is ''nuisance,'' so in my opinion she deserves a swat when you see her.