Why do mosquitoes bite?
Only female mosquitoes bite. Female mosquitoes require a blood meal to acquire the protein needed to produce eggs. Females lay multiple batches of eggs during their lifespan, and a new blood meal is needed to produce each batch. Different mosquito species prefer different host species; some mosquitoes will seek blood meals from birds, others from mammals - and some are generalists. The female inserts her needle-like proboscis - a slender, tubular, feeding and sucking organ - under the victim's skin, drawing blood into her abdomen. She will feed until her abdomen is full, unless discovered and brushed away.
Why do mosquitoes seem to bite some people, but not others?
This phenomenon is not completely understood. Mosquitoes are attracted by the carbon dioxide that we - and other animals - exhale. They may also be attracted by various odors - perfume, perspiration, lactic acid, detergents - that combine in unique ways to make one victim more attractive than another as a meal. Because dark colors absorb heat and lighter colors tend to reflect heat, mosquitoes also tend to be more attracted to victims dressed in darker clothes.
Why do mosquitoes bites itch and swell?
The itching, swelling, and burning from a mosquito bite are actually caused by the body's autoimmune response to the saliva injected by the mosquito when she feeds. This saliva contains anti-coagulating agents that prevent the victim's blood from clotting as it is sucked into the mosquito's abdomen. A bite may take several days to heal and stop itching; treat it with Calamine lotion or a topical anti-itch medication.
Where do mosquitoes breed?
Mosquitoes breed in wet, swampy areas, where they lay their eggs. The eggs hatch in the water, and the young mosquitoes spend their pupal stages in the water. Mosquitoes lay eggs in both fresh and polluted water, and seek still waters such as those found in small puddles, ditches, and ponds. Even a small amount of standing water - say, in the bottom of a flower pot - will provide sufficient habitat for mosquito eggs. These eggs usually hatch about 5 days after they are laid. A key factor in mosquito prevention is the elimination of standing water in your area.
What is the average lifespan of a mosquito?
Like most insects, mosquitoes are a prime food source for birds, amphibians, and spiders. Between predators and extreme weather events such as drought and harsh rains, most mosquitoes live for an average of about two weeks in their adult form. If they manageto escape predators, females from some mosquito species live to about two to three months of age. Those females who enter adult form late in the season may go into hibernation as cooler weather approaches, and can emerge the following spring to lay eggs. In many species, eggs laid before the onset of cold weather can also survive through a winter, even without water, re-hydrating in spring rains to go through larval, pupal, and adult stages.
Will winter bring an end to West Nile-carrying mosquitoes?
Yes and no. Like snakes and amphibians, insects are cold-blooded, and cannot regulate their own body temperatures. Because they are dependent upon their environment to maintain a sufficient body temperature, mosquitoes "disappear" in regions subject to cold winters. Female mosquitoes that survive into the onset of winter can go into hibernation; if they mated in the fall, they can emerge ready find the first available blood meal, and then lay their eggs, in the spring. Some mosquito species can lay eggs which survive extreme weather, such as cold, ice, and drought. Moisture produced by spring rains and melting snow and ice will cause these eggs to hatch, and the mosquitoes will progress through larval, pupal, and finally adult stages to begin the cycle anew. In the warm and humid climates of the Southeast and Gulf Coast, mosquitoes can thrive year-round.
How many types of mosquitoes are there?
According to the American Mosquito Control Association, there are more than 2500 species of mosquitoes world-wide; about 200 of these species occur in the U.S. According to the National Pesticide Information Center, 36 species occurring in the U.S. have tested positive as carriers of West Nile Virus. The most common carrier of West Nile is the Culex pipiens (Northern house) mosquito. Other carriers include Culex restuans , Aedes albopictus, Culex quinquefasciatus (Southern house mosquito), and Aedes vexans.
Mosquitoes carry serious diseases like the West Nile virus. West Nile has killed more than 1,000 people in the United States since it was first discovered in 1999 and has also killed hundreds of thousands of birds.
It is particularly serious for some seniors and people with weakened immune systems.
How do we stop them from biting us in the first place? A lot of people are worried about using sprays that include the chemical DEET.
DEET has been the gold standard for decades now, and I like a 7 percent solution when using DEET.
But for people who would like an alternative, there are some very effective organic plant-derived compounds out there now. One is Eucalyptus, and the oil of lemon Eucalyptus is used in Repel, a great natural repellent.
A repellent called Bite Blocker uses soy beans as a base. Wild tomatoes are used to make Bio UD, another natural repellent. And Lemons Grass is used to make SUNWAT, another effective repellent.
Probably one of the most important tips is to get rid of any standing water you have around your yard - whether it's rain collected in old tires, a discarded plastic container hiding under a shrub or water sitting in a drain or roof gutter; mosquitos are a "just add water" type of critter.
We have a pond and while we had turtles in it, I was hardly bothered by mozzies; but within a couple of weeks of removing the turtles I was a mosquito diner.
While turtles aren't for everyone, there are some hardy types of fish that can live in small ponds that are very effective in controlling mosquitoes such as Gambusia (mosquito fish) - but these shouldn't be introduced to ponds where there are other fish as they can be quite aggressive. They definitely shouldn't be released into waterways where they aren't a native.
Another good way to discourage mosquitoes in ponds is to have the water moving through the use of a small fountain - mosquitos require still water for egg laying.
But just because you address standing water in your own yard, it doesn't mean your neighbors will be quite as thorough. Mosquitoes will travel up to a mile from where they emerged, so you'll need some extra protection.
- Cover up - wear long sleeved clothing where possible. When researching this article I found a great deal of conflicting information on clothing color; even on reputable medical sites - some said mozzies were attracted to light clothes, others said dark clothes.
- Some swear by essential oils such as lemongrass, lemon eucalyptus, peppermint and pure vanilla extract as repellents, others say they are entirely ineffective. As so many oils are recommended, are quite expensive to buy and can cause irritation if not mixed properly, before buying up a supply of essential oils to trial, give a commercial ready-to-go natural product a whirl - these will usually contain a mixture of oils. Try running a search on the terms: natural mosquito repellent on your favorite search engine and also read reviews from others on particular brands. Also check the label of any such product carefully - "natural" can be a rather rubbery term.
- Mosquitoes are attracted by many fragrances, such as those found in shampoos and sunscreens, so try using fragrance-free products.
- Most mosquitoes are active between dusk and dawn, so avoid being outside between those times and particularly heavy exercise during the darker hours as mosquitoes are attracted to body heat, the scent of sweat and sources of high levels of carbon dioxide.
- If you are outside, such as when entertaining guests; try lighting a few citronella candles upwind of where you are. Citronella is a natural repellent and is the active component of lemongrass.
- Check all your fly screens - a small hole is a gaping gateway for mozzies
- Even if they don't bite you, there's nothing more annoying than the sound of a mosquito buzzing while you're trying to sleep. A mosquito net placed around and over your bed will help ensure a peaceful and bite-free sleep. Mosquito netting draped over a wide brimmed hat can also be an option for protecting your face when engaged in some outdoor activities.
And if you wind up getting bitten despite all the precautions, what should you do? What should you put on your arm right now to make you more comfortable?
First, don't scratch. Put a little ice on it, which will reduce the inflammation. You can also use calamine lotion to get rid of the itch, or a product called After Bite, which will neutralize the protein that mosquitoes inject into you. And, of course, you can also use hydrocortisone cream, which also helps take down the inflammation.
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