The Essential Guide to Mosquitoes

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Unlike sunny days, picnics and swimming pools, mosquitoes are one of the few staples of summer most people could do without. The itchy, bumpy, red bites they inflict are annoying enough, but mosquitoes are also infamous as disease vectors – meaning that they can carry and transmit disease-causing pathogens. In fact, mosquitoes have become so good at vectoring disease that they are actually the deadliest creature to humans on the planet – easily out-distancing animals thought of first like sharks, bears, lions, etc.

According to global researchers, mosquito bites can be traced back as the cause of death for nearly one million people each year worldwide. The CDC reports that more than 17,000 people in the US have become ill and 1,600 have died from West Nile Virus since 1999.

Here at Ehrlich, our Technicians help our customers stay safe from pests like mosquitoes every day. We take pride in being Your Local Pest Control Experts. We have created “The Essential Guide to Mosquitoes” to answer the public’s most common questions about mosquitoes.

Find out what mosquitoes are, how they choose their hosts (or who to bite), their life-cycle and what you can do to prevent being bitten in this comprehensive guide.

Click on a question below and be taken to the answer.


Basic Mosquito Questions

Mosquito Bite Questions

Mosquito Disease Questions

Mosquito Prevention Questions

 

Basic Mosquito Questions


What are mosquitoes? 

Mosquitoes are very small insects in the scientific order Diptera (the same order as the common house fly). All flies, including mosquitoes only have one pair of wings used for flight, but also halteres, which are modified rear wings that are used to balance them during flight. Mosquitoes are notorious due to the female mosquito’s need to drink blood.

What do mosquitoes look like?

Mosquito

They are small, scaly insects. The scales are usually dark in color, giving mosquitoes a gray to black appearance.   In many mosquitoes, these scales are iridescent – silver, green or gold sheen.  Additionally, some mosquitoes have white stripes on their abdomen, legs or both.

Mosquitoes have a distinctive, long proboscis (tubular mouthparts) that resembles a long beak coming from their head. This is what pierces the skin and the blood vessels for a blood meal.

Adult mosquitoes are small, usually between 3 – 9 mm.

How do mosquitoes breed? 

Mosquitoes only need a cup of water or more, in which  to lay eggs, but all mosquitoes do require water for breeding purposes as their larvae are aquatic They prefer still (stagnant) water and will not lay their eggs in moving water or flowing creeks.

Female mosquitoes only need to mate once and have a specialized organ in which to store the sperm that will later be used to fertilize the eggs. Once mated, female will find a still body of water to lay those fertilized eggs. The body of water can be small, even hoof prints of animals such as horses and cows will do.

Mosquitoes can be categorized into different types based on their preferences for where they lay their eggs. Two examples include container breeding mosquitoes that lay their eggs in standing water in artificial containers, such as children’s toys and flower pots, or in natural containers such as tree holes and floodwater mosquitoes that lay their eggs in relatively dry places in flood-prone areas.

Where do mosquitoes breed?

Mosquito lay their eggs in standing water. They only need as little as one cup of water in which to do so.

Places that can hold water and might be used as mosquito breeding sites include:

  • Toys
  • Bird baths
  • Flower pots
  • Swimming pool liners
  • Abandoned tires
  • Wheelbarrows
  • Gutters
  • Rainwater collected in tire ruts, roadside ditches, etc.


When do mosquitoes come out? 

Mosquitoes most commonly feed at dusk and at dawn. However, it can depend upon the mosquito species, as certain species come out at different times. The majority of mosquito species that bite humans are the ones that come out at dusk and dawn although there are some daytime biters.

What are mosquitoes good for? How do mosquitoes benefit the environment?

Despite what you might think, mosquitoes are an important part of the food chain. Fish, other insects, reptiles, birds and bats all consume large quantities of mosquitoes in different life stages. Fish and other aquatic life consume mosquito. Lizards, birds, bats and spiders regularly consume adult mosquitoes.

Although not as significant a contributor as bees, mosquitoes are also pollinators. Male mosquitoes (and occasionally females), drink nectar from flowers and plants, pollinating as they move from flower to flower.

Where do mosquitoes hide during the day? 

Most mosquitoes prefer not to be out feeding during the hot and sunny parts of the day, as one of their biggest challenges is avoiding dehydration. Therefore in the daytime, most mosquitoes can be found resting in cool, damp shady areas, primarily on vegetation.

 

How did mosquitoes evolve an attraction to people? 

It is actually a misconception that mosquitoes only feed on humans or only on warm-blooded animals. Actually, mosquitoes vary in their host preferences, with some species being generalists and others having evolved specific host preferences. For example, some mosquito species feed on any warm-blooded animal, while others will feed exclusively on birds or reptiles.

Where do mosquitoes go during the winter? 

Where mosquitoes go in winter depends on the species and it also depends on where they live. For example, in tropical climates, mosquitoes can be active all the time. However, in temperate areas with harsh, cold winters, mosquitoes will “overwinter” or go dormant.

Mosquitoes that overwinter will do so in a specific life stage. In some mosquito species, the adults leave eggs behind before dying off, and the eggs will overwinter and hatch in the spring.  Other mosquito species will seek out protective shelters and overwinter as adults.

Do mosquitoes prefer indoors or outdoors?

Mosquitoes most definitely prefer to live their lives outdoors. That is why simply making sure that your windows have screens can be such an effective way of keeping them outside. It is possible for mosquitoes to end up inside your home, of course, but they prefer outdoors and are not actively seeking entry into your home.

How long do mosquitoes live? 

Mosquitoes develop rapidly and typically go from an egg to an adult in 10 – 14 days.  Some take less time to develop, and others more, depending on the environmental conditions as well as the mosquito species. Once they are adults, mosquitoes can live 3 or 4 months, depending on conditions such as weather and food availability.

Where are mosquitoes worst in the U.S.?  

Mosquitoes are active throughout the U.S. Their prevalence in specific geographic areas depends on temperatures and environmental conditions – keep in mind that mosquitoes require water to breed and are dormant in colder temperatures (below 50°).

In places that are consistently warm and wet such as Florida, mosquitoes will thrive all year round. Up north, where the weather is seasonal, mosquitoes will be active only during the warmer months. However, in places with higher amounts of water, such as in coastal areas like Maine, mosquitoes will especially be in abundance during spring and summer.

Even places such as Alaska should not be underestimated for the presence of mosquitoes.  While Alaska traditionally only gets a short period of warm weather, many areas in Alaska are very damp and swampy, so the mosquitoes can be intense when it’s warm.

States like Nevada or Arizona that have very dry climates may experience less intense mosquito pressures, but mosquitoes are still found there, nonetheless.

Mosquito Bite Questions


How do mosquitoes find where to bite? 

Anopheles Mosquito Transmits Malaria

Mosquitoes, are proficient blood feeders, and, like most creatures, have evolved and adapted to their chosen meal preferences. As such, they have developed senses and methods that allow them to be particularly good at finding a blood vessel. In fact, mosquitoes typically land on their host, locate a blood vessel and feed all in 3 minutes or less.

Why do mosquitoes bite? 

The first thing to understand is that only the adult female mosquito’s bite, and this is solely for the purposes of obtaining a bloodmeal. Male mosquitoes feed on plant nectar, and do not even have the necessary mouthparts required to drink blood. Mosquito larvae are aquatic, and will consume small bits of decaying organic matter from the water.

Female mosquitoes must bite to drink blood, because they require the protein from the blood meal in order for their eggs to develop.   Of course, there are exceptions and certain species can lay eggs without a blood meal, but the vast majority of mosquitoes that you are likely to encounter are blood-feeders.

How do mosquitoes detect people? 

Mosquitoes can efficiently hone in on their human hosts by using specialized senses that are geared to detect human-specific odors, carbon dioxide output and warm body temperatures.

Therefore, engaging in activities such as jogging through a wooded area, where you are sweating and expelling large amounts of C02, make you particularly attractive to a mosquito.  Consider using insect repellent before entering into these types of situations.

Why do mosquito bites itch? 

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Mosquito bites are itchy due to an allergic reaction by your body to the bite. When mosquitoes feed, they release proteins in their saliva, which your body recognizes as foreign. Your immune system then reacts by attacking the allergen at the bite site, which results in you getting the itchy bump. The reaction is usually localized and can vary depending on the immune system of the person bitten.

How do mosquitoes bite?  

Mosquitoes use their long proboscis to “bite”, or more accurately, feed on their host.  This long proboscis is actually a complex organ that is made up of smaller parts, designed to cut skin, expel saliva and suck up blood.  There is even a protective sheath that covers this organ when not in use.

The proboscis is not a one way device and actually contains two tubes. One tube sucks up the blood and the second tube delivers the saliva, which contains an anesthetic, anticoagulant and analgesics to help the mosquito go undetected during feeding.

Disease transmission by mosquitoes is a complex process that involves many different factors.  Contrary to what most people think, mosquitoes don’t simply spread disease through contaminated mouthparts, like a “dirty needle” effect. Mosquitoes actually transmit pathogens (if there are pathogens present) via their saliva during feeding.

How do you treat mosquito bites? 

There is usually no reason to treat a mosquito bite, unless it is infected. It is best to wash it with soap and water, and then leave it alone. Scratching bites can lead to secondary infections, as dirt and bacteria on your fingernails can get into the wound. There are anti-itch creams on the market that can help you to avoid the temptation to scratch.

Seek medical attention if, after being bitten, the bite seems infected (i.e. painful, redness swelling at the bite site) or you are experience symptoms such difficulty breathing, swallowing, etc.

Are some people more appetizing to mosquitoes than others? 

Actually, yes. It all comes down to the mosquito’s sense of smell. Some people just smell more appealing than others and that is why mosquitoes might choose one person over another.

 

Mosquito Disease Questions


What diseases do mosquitoes carry? How do outbreaks happen?

Mosquitoes are efficient vectors of many diseases and are responsible for more human deaths annually than any other living creature.

In North America, there are two major groups of mosquito-transmitted diseases to be concerned about:

Encephalitis-Causing Arboviruses – Arboviruses, in the most basic sense, are viruses transmitted by arthropod (mosquitoes are a type of arthropod).  In the U.S., mosquitoes transmit several arboviruses that can cause encephalitis—a life-threatening inflammation of the brain.  One of the most notorious encephalitis-causing arboviruses is West Nile Virus, which was not seen in this country prior to 1999.

Other mosquito-transmitted arboviruses in the U.S. include:

  • Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE)
  • Western Eastern Encephalitis (WEE)
  • Louis Encephalitis (SLE)
  • La Crosse Encephalitis (LAC) – this is the #1 cause of pediatric encephalitis in the U.S.

It is important to note that the majority of human cases of these arboviruses produce no symptoms or result in non-specific flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache and fatigue.   Only a very small percentage of arboviral infections will progress to the encephalitic form. In these severe cases, viral infection will invade the brain and central nervous system, resulting in a variety of neurological disorders including disorientation, tremors, seizures and neurological damage.

Mosquito-borne viruses are more common than most people realize.  . Because most arboviruses cause very mild (if any) symptoms, most people will never know that they had ever been infected.

Heartworm – this is a mosquito-transmitted parasitic worm that primarily affects canines.  Heartworm infection in canines is a serious and potentially fatal condition because the parasitic worms live in the arteries of the lungs and right ventricle of the heart.

Other Diseases – of course, the state of things can change with mosquitoes at any time, and there is always the potential for mosquitoes to transmit diseases not previously seen (or formerly eradicated) in the U.S.   Mosquito-transmitted diseases can be introduced when infected mosquitoes travel from other countries (commonly as accidental hitchhikers on planes, boats and even strong winds). Infected travelers can also introduce mosquito-transmitted disease, In general though, for outbreaks to occur, the mosquito-transmitted disease, as well as the right mosquito species would need to be present.

It is important to know that not all mosquito species can transmit disease, and in fact, most mosquito-transmitted diseases are associated with only a handful of mosquito species.

For example, there are species of mosquitoes, known as Anopheles mosquitoes, here in North America that, in other parts of the world, are known to carry and transmit malaria. However, since malaria has been eradicated here in the U.S., Anopheles mosquitoes in the U.S. do not carry this disease. However, should someone infected with malaria arrive in the U.S. and an Anopheles mosquito were to bite that person, than an outbreak of malaria could potentially result.

Along these same lines, in nearby Puerto Rico, the mosquito-transmitted Dengue virus runs rampant, causing illness and death in millions of people annually. Dengue virus is transmitted by two (2) mosquito species that are also commonly found in the U.S. Therefore, outbreaks of Dengue are possible in the U.S., should even one sickened human or infected mosquito vector enter the continental United States.

There are a couple of ways that disease outbreaks can happen thanks to mosquitoes. The first is that a mosquito feeds on someone that has a disease. It is then ingested by the mosquito; it will go through the mosquitoes system and end up in the saliva.

The second method would be a mosquito that is already infected hitching a ride on cars or planes and being transferred from one country to another and bringing that disease with them.

What mosquitoes carry diseases? 

Not all mosquito species transmit diseases. In order for mosquitoes to truly transmit disease, they have to take a blood meal from an infected host. The blood goes right into the mosquito’s gut and then the pathogen has to break through the gut barrier. From there, the disease has to make it back to the salivary glands. Once the pathogen reaches the glands, it will reproduce and break through more barriers in order to be transmitted to people via the saliva.

Different mosquitoes have different barriers which means it is possible for certain types of mosquitoes to have a pathogen, but not be able to transmit it to people.

 

Mosquito Prevention Questions


How can you keep a mosquito from biting you? 

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Keep mosquitoes from biting you by using a combination of personal protection and bite avoidance habits.

Personal Protection

Personal protection involves taking the following preventative measures, such as:

  • Wear long pants and shirts with long sleeves – any time you have skin exposed, you are more susceptible to being bitten by mosquitoes
  • Wear light colored-clothing - research has shown that mosquitoes tend to be more attracted to dark colors.
  • Avoid heavy perfumes – mosquitoes are attracted to the smell and avoiding them will reduce your attraction to them.
  • Use insect repellents containing an EPA-registered active ingredient – always use repellent with an EPA registration number on it. For example, oil of lemon eucalyptus (or OLE) is a “natural” active ingredient in some insect repellents. If you buy this product as a concentrate or natural product from a health food store (i.e. without an EPA registration number because is not actual insect repellent product) it will not work in the same way. In a commercially available insect repellent product, OLE has a formulation which makes it an effective insect repellent.
  • Use DEET - the most widely used active ingredient in insect repellents. According to the CDC, DEET has been shown to be an extremely safe and highly effective mosquito repellent.

Bite Avoidance Habits

If you know about mosquitoes and their habits you can change your behavior to avoid being bitten. Examples are:

  • Avoid outdoor activities at dusk and dawn – prime feeding times for the majority of mosquitoes.
  • Use fans – if you insist on sitting on your porch during the hours when mosquitoes are feeding, then use fans to keep them away. Mosquitoes are very weak flyers and are unable to fly against the air currents that fans produce. A medium-sized fan set up on your porch can do a good job keep mosquitoes away.
  • Install screens – equip the windows of your home with tight-fitting screens, to avoid having mosquitoes as house guests.


How do you get rid of mosquitoes? 

The most important thing that you can do to get rid of mosquitoes is to reduce their breeding sources. That means eliminating any standing water. Empty out anything that holds a cup or more of water, such as   children’s toys, flower pots, pool liners, used tires, wheel barrows, etc. Once these items are emptied out, overturn them, if possible, to prevent water collection in the future.

Fill tire ruts with dirt and natural cavities in tree holes and stumps with mortar. Drain abandoned swimming pools that are stagnant.

If you have an ornamental pond, keep the water moving by installing an agitator, such as a fountain or waterfall, or stock the water with mosquito-feeding fish, such as top-feeding minnows to eat the larvae.

How do mosquitoes get in your house?

Like any other insect, a mosquito can get into your house via open doors and windows or through torn screens. Make sure that the screens are in good repair and make sure the windows you want to open on a regular basis are screened.

Are there natural mosquito repellents? Do citronella candles work?

Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) is a good example of a proven natural insect repellent. However, if you buy this product as a concentrate or natural product from a health food store it will not work in the same way that a commercially formulated product would that contained OLE as the active ingredient.  In a commercially available insect repellent product, OLE has a formulation which makes it an effective insect repellent.

Another thing to keep in mind is that natural insect repellents work by creating a temporary OILY skin barrier. You must reapply natural insect repellents every 20 minutes to maintain their effectiveness. Also, natural insect repellents may be skin irritants, especially when scented.

Citronella candles may repel the mosquitoes from the waist up in the vicinity of the odor or smoke of the candle, but mosquitoes can still bite legs or the lower half of someone’s body. The best bet for full protection is still a mosquito repellent containing DEET, or another EPA-registered active ingredient.

How does a professional take care of mosquitoes? 

Ehrlich offers a Mosquito Solution that is safe for use around children and pets and focuses on treating the vegetation where mosquitoes are likely to rest. While many solutions address mosquitoes in their juvenile stage, this program targets the blood-feeding adults that pose the greater health risk.

The treatment kills mosquitoes and ticks on contact, and creates a month-long barrier to prevent new ones from entering the treated area.  Consumers can choose between both natural and conventional long-term programs to deliver the best treatment for an individual home or business.

Additional services for mosquitoes include the treatment of any standing water, to effectively eliminate mosquito larvae and pupae.

Do you have any questions about mosquitoes or are you worried about mosquitoes around your property? Contact a mosquito control expert at Ehrlich online or call 888-976-4649 to speak with a live pest control expert. 

Also, be sure to check out our other pest guides such as The Essential Guide to Termites and The Essential Guide to Bed Bugs.

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