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8 Things You Didn't Know About Mosquitoes
By Alexandra Gekas
Love spending time outdoors during the summer? You’re not alone. The hot, humid weather is also a favorite of...mosquitoes. Since these insects are a nuisance to almost everyone, we spoke to experts to get the lowdown on the bothersome bug. Not only did we learn that there are more than 3,000 mosquito species throughout the world, we also found out why some people are more prone to bites than others, how to prevent an infestation and more. Read on to discover fascinating facts about this flying troublemaker for a bite-free season.
1. How often you’re bitten may have to do with your genes.
Dark clothing, body heat and movement can all attract mosquitoes, but being a target can also be due to genetics. In other words, some people are physiologically more appealing than others, says Joe Conlon, a former entomologist for the U.S. Navy and a technical advisor for the American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA). "There are a little over 300 compounds that are emanated by the human body; some tend to be a bit repellent and some tend to be attractive [to mosquitoes]. A lot of it has to do with the types of secretions you make and what odors you produce," Conlon says. Unfortunately, you can’t change your biology, so your best bet for deterring mosquitoes is to use bug repellent.
2. Different mosquitoes have different feeding habits.
With so many different species of mosquitoes, it's inevitable that they have different diets. "Some don’t eat blood at all; and of the ones that do eat blood, some don't eat human blood," says Laura Sirot, PhD, insect reproductive biology specialist and assistant professor of biology at The College of Wooster in Ohio. Furthermore, some species feed in the evening, while others feed during the day, Dr. Sirot adds. And although mosquitoes generally thrive during warmer months, Conlon says some species can survive year-round. “They’re cold-blooded, so they don’t do very well in colder climates,” he says. “But some of the eggs can survive through the winter. And, believe it or not, some species—especially the females—will live through a milder winter, primarily the ones in warmer climates like Florida."
3. Only female mosquitoes bite.
While it may feel like every mosquito within a mile radius is biting you, only the female mosquitoes actually drink blood, according to the AMCA. "Female mosquitoes feed on humans because they need blood to lay their eggs," says Greg Baumann, a technical advisor at Orkin pest control. Both sexes typically "eat nectar, but in order to lay eggs, females need nutrients from a blood meal.”
4. Bug repellent is your best defense.
While some people may be concerned about the side effects of certain repellents—especially those containing DEET, a chemical that can sometimes cause skin irritation and has a strong odor—Conlon says there are few, if any, natural alternatives. "DEET has been used billions of times and there have only been 10 to 13 hospitalizations. Its toxicity has been greatly overplayed," Conlon says. All CDC-approved ingredients (DEET, Picaridin, IR3535 and oil of lemon eucalyptus) have been registered and approved by the Environmental Protection Agency for use on skin and clothing—as long as the directions are followed. In addition to repellent, you can use fans to deter mosquitoes when entertaining outdoors. “Mosquitoes are relatively poor fliers; they are bad at traversing even a moderate breeze," Conlon says.
5. Exterminators can help combat mosquitoes.
Exterminators are usually called in to fight ants, termites and cockroaches, but they can help get rid of mosquitoes, too. "We look for signs of mosquito infestation and we'll provide advice," says Baumann. "For existing mosquitoes, we'll treat underneath vegetation and walls—not where people are, just where mosquitoes are." To prevent infestations, Baumann provides clients with several recommendations: Get rid of any standing water, like in bird baths and children's toys; clean your gutters, which can trap water; and, if using a rain barrel to collect water for your garden, place a screen on top so the mosquitoes can't get to the water and lay their eggs. If you happen to live next to a vacant property that’s become a mosquito magnet, call local authorities to deal with the issue.
6. Mosquitoes can transmit diseases.
Mosquitoes are responsible for more than one million deaths worldwide per year, according to the AMCA. Some of the diseases spread by mosquitoes include malaria, encephalitis and yellow fever, in addition to dengue fever (a nondeadly virus causing fever, joint pain and rashes) and West Nile virus (a potentially deadly virus that weakens the immune system)—both of which have recently been found in America. "We have a number of species in the United States that have been implicated in the transmission of West Nile virus. They're getting it from birds," Conlon says. "Mosquitoes are feeding on [infected] hatchlings in the spring. Then during the summer, the same species of mosquito shifts its feeding preference to humans."
7. Some people have worse reactions to bites than others.
For most people, mosquito bites cause itching and redness, but others have an allergic reaction known as Skeeter Syndrome. For these people, mosquito bites cause "a large red spot (sometimes as large as a plum). It's extremely itchy and sometimes painful," Baumann says. According to Conlon, it's a reaction to compounds in the mosquito’s saliva, and the allergy is most prevalent in fair-skinned people. Although irritating, the syndrome does not cause any particular health consequences or long-term effects. However, it does make you prone to itching, which can lead to scabbing and infection. To soothe bites, try an over-the-counter anti-itch cream, such as those made by Benadryl and Aveeno.
8. Mosquitoes can consume twice their body weight in blood.
While the average mosquito weighs about 2.5 milligrams, according to the AMCA, when they bite, they drink more than 5 milligrams—twice their body weight—of blood. For a 150-pound person, "that's like drinking a 300-pound milkshake," says Dr. Sirot. Once filled to the brim with blood, mosquitoes often excrete waste so they can fly away. This process, known as diuresis, happens with all species—though the