Thursday, February 26, 2009

Mosquitoes: A Fatal Attraction

This article will give you the lowdown on the mosquito’s attraction to the human race, why this love is unrequited, and how to avoid donating blood to these leechers.

A one-sided love affair

Mosquitoes have had a thing for humans for thousands of years. The human-loving tendencies of these winged whiners have not been reciprocated however. Despite repeated rejection and death threats, they keep coming back to plant unwanted kisses on us. There being about 3000 species of mosquitoes makes for an interesting range of body-part preferences. The conservative ones stick to a quick peck on the cheek while some exhibit foot fetishes. Anopheles and Culex mosquitoes sneak smoochies at dusk and after dark while Aedes mosquitoes favor public daytime displays of affection. These mini molesters share a common modus operandi – they furtively insert their syringe-like mouths into your flesh and pump in itch-inducing anti-clotting saliva while taking their fill of you.

Mosquitoes aren’t very bright

A mosquito’s itty bitty brain, housed in its teeny tiny head, weighs way less than its 2.5 mg body. It’s not much of a thinker since it has very limited neuronal processing abilities. However, these featherweights are hardwired to
live successful and productive mosquito lives. The sole life goal of male mosquitoes is to ‘get a gal’, which can be tricky because mosquitoes have bad eyesight. (Stay tuned for my next post about mosquito courtship). That aside, these peace-loving little guys don’t do much except relax and sip floral nectar. Mosquito mommies are the ones with the bloodlust, programmed to find and drink blood to produce egg batches. Not being very maternal, she pops out up to 300 eggs in some water and then flies off to drink more blood and make more eggs. Mosquito babies (‘wrigglers’) are filter-feeders. They hang out upside down near the surface of the water, breathing through a tube at their rear end. Those that don’t end up in the bellies of dragonfly larvae and fishes eventually turn into ‘tumblers’ (the non-feeding pupal stage) and emerge as adults. A bottle capful of water is enough to raise a whole swarm of marauding skeeters in as little as seven days.

Mosquito kisses can make you sick
Never mind that these mannerless mozzies make us their main course without so much as a please and thank you. Never mind the maddeningly itchy bites they bestow as they drain our blood. These are trifling compared with the potential problems their unsolicited saliva transfusions could bring. Globally, mosquitoes are responsible for inflicting maladies and misery on around 500 million people a year. About one million of these people – mostly children - die. The Terrible Three are Anopheles, Culex and Aedes mosquitoes, which vector malaria, the West Nile Virus and dengue, respectively. The worst of these three harbingers of death is Anopheles, which does occur in the United States. Fortunately the risk of contracting malaria from one of these whiners is very small because there isn’t a ‘reservoir’ of malaria-infected people from which to spread this nasty disease. (Learn more about the malaria cycle here). In fact the United States was declared malaria-free in 1949. More cause for concern is the West Nile Virus, which hides out in birds and other animals and can be transmitted to us by mosquitoes that have fed on infected animals. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported 124 West Nile related deaths in 2007 and 8 so far in 2008. CDC’s reassuring advice: “the chance that any one person is going to become ill from a single mosquito bite remains low”.

Muzzle the mozzies

The warmer months are peak breeding times for amorous mosquitoes, which means more bloodlusting mommy mozzies are out and about. Depriving them of watery egg-laying sites will help avert a population explosion of little kamikaze-biters around your home. A good pest control operator should be able to recommend environmentally-friendly larvicides that will take out skeeter babies in those tough-to-drain spots. Other weapons in the homeowner’s anti-mosquito arsenal include mosquito screens, protective clothing and insect repellents, all of which help ensure that these whining suckers don’t get away with unauthorized blood samples. (For more tips on how to avoid mosquito bites, stayed tuned for my next post).

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