What’s annoying, buzzes, bites and spreads diseases?
The mosquito (scientific name Culicidae, and member of Diptera, the same group as true flies) is a small flying pest with the power to drive people indoors. Just the sight or sound of one can invoke an irrational violent tirade with a fly swatter. Just thinking about them can make you want to scratch.
Let's be honest - they take the fun out of summer, a relaxing night by the fire, or a much-anticipated outdoor event.
There are 3,000+ species of mosquitoes in the world, of which around 60 are home to Ontario. Here in Ontario, and other parts of Canada, they are a nuisance pest between May and September. Mosquitoes are most active between dusk and dawn, but they can be active at any time of the day. During the day, they often inhabit shaded areas or will be more widespread during overcast conditions. Mosquitoes avoid hot sunny days as they will dry out and die in these conditions.
While despised by humans, mosquitoes play an important role in our ecosystem. They are a dependable food source for many animals found in your garden or outdoors, including frogs, birds, dragonflies and bats.
Adult mosquitoes are 3-9 mm in length, with a single set of wings, a long nose (called a proboscis) and long thin legs. Their wings and body are covered with tiny scales. Female mosquitoes are usually larger than males, and only females use their proboscis to bite and draw blood.
Often, mosquitos are mistaken for flies. To help you tell the difference:
Mosquitoes have antenna which are covered with plume (hair) that help them hear. Males have large and feathery plumes, and use these to locate females for mating. Female’s antenna appears more smooth and sleek in comparison.
Mosquitoes eat blood and nectar from flowers and other plant sugars. Female mosquitoes also feed on human or animal blood post mating because it gives needed nourishment for egg generation and development. Some mosquito species will cannibalize other mosquitos and a few species exist where female mosquitoes only feed on plant nectar and other plant sugars (no blood), like males.
Given the number of mosquito bites one can accumulate in a single evening by a camp fire, it’s hard not to believe that they love feeding on humans. Mosquitoes do prefer to feed on cattle, horses and birds.
All mosquito species go through four distinct stages in their life cycle - egg, larvae, pupa, and adult. The first 3 stages of the mosquito life cycle take place in water. The length of time between egg to adult depends on the species, water and temperature. A complete life cycle can occur in less than 10 days.
After mating, female mosquitoes will seek a blood meal to aid in their egg production. Because mosquitoes grow in still-water or slow-moving water, females will often lay her eggs in standing pools of water (natural or man-made). Mosquito eggs can survive for months in dry locations, so eggs will also be deposited in dry areas near water. Their life cycle will resume once the area becomes flooded or wet enough. While it varies by species, females can produce between 100 and 400 eggs at a single laying, and can lay eggs every few days.
Usually within a few days, tiny worm-like larvae hatch. They are coined ‘wigglers’ for their wiggle-like swimming movement in the standing water. Larvae will live near the water’s surface where they will breathe through tubes and feed on organic matter as they develop. They molt several times before pupating.
During the pupa stage, they are referred to as tumblers, which again describes their submerging-like movement in the standing water to flee from possible predators. They still breathe near the surface, but they no longer feed. Within a few days, they emerge from the water as adults.
An adult mosquito will take flight soon after, once they dry off, and their exoskeleton hardens. Within a couple of days, the reproductive organs of a male mosquito are developed, and they will mate with a female. Males typically die 3-5 days post mating. Females will mate only once, and keep laying eggs after each blood meal. Female mosquitoes can live up to 1 month.
Yes, mosquitoes bite. Only female mosquitoes have the mouth parts necessary for sucking blood, which is used for egg production. When biting with her proboscis, she stabs two tubes into the victim’s skin - one to inject an enzyme that inhibits blood clotting, and the other to suck blood into her own body.
Mosquitoes detect animals and people through sensing and fixating on exhaled carbon dioxide, body odors, temperature, and movement.
Yes, mosquito bites can trigger allergic reactions in some people. Reactions will differ person to person, ranging from redness to mild irritation and rash, to intense inflammation and even swelling. If you are concerned about a reaction to a mosquito bite, seek medical attention.
Yes, mosquitoes can transmit diseases anywhere in the world. Mosquitoes can be hosts to parasites and virus, and can pass these on to humans though biting and feeding or from saliva alone.
A disproportionate number of deaths caused by mosquito-borne diseases happen to elderly and children living in developing countries.
Not all mosquito species carry or transmit diseases to humans. In fact, there are only 3 species that pose a serious health risk:
In Canada, West Nile virus is a serious health concern, but the risk of contracting it or it causing serious illness is low. Here in Ontario, mosquitoes are less of a health concern, and more of a threat to outdoor fun and events.
If you are going to travel, take precaution by checking for any travel advisories and speak with your doctor about possible vaccines or health risks. For example, the ziki virus which can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus, has no vaccine to prevent contraction, and no treatment.
Here are some tips to help you protect against mosquito bites:
Mosquitoes do not cause damage to homes or structures. They are an obnoxious, nuisance pest to people, and can cause allergic reactions or spread disease.
The most obvious sign of a mosquito infestation is heavy mosquito activity, which includes buzzing and biting. If there are frequent, long-standing sources of water around, whether natural (like ponds and puddles), or man-made (bird baths, old tires, buckets, gardening pots or kids play equipment), this can be a sign that mosquito eggs, larvae and pupae are present, and will be a future problem if not addressed.
The best way to stop mosquitoes from bothering you is to prevent them. Here are some things you can do to help eliminate mosquito breeding sites around your property:
If you’re looking for ways to get rid of mosquitoes, consider:
There are many devices on the market to trap, kill or repel mosquitoes, like bug zappers, sprays, lanterns, coils, and electronic mosquito repellers (which emit a high-frequency sound). These may help you stay outdoors a little longer, but they are not effective solutions for minimizing mosquito populations, which is how to get rid of mosquitoes.
To effectively get rid of mosquitoes, prevention is key.
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