The word ‘mosquito’ is Spanish for ‘little fly’, with the name originating in the 16th century when these annoying insects were first discovered. The population and species have increased dramatically over the centuries, leaving us with over 3,500 different mosquito species today.
There are many types of mosquitoes in Texas. All of the species bite and have the potential to pass along diseases when they bite. But exactly how do mosquitoes bite? Do mosquitoes have teeth or do they use something else to penetrate the skin?
Only Females Bite
The primary diet of mosquitoes is the nectar from fruits and various plants. However, prior to laying eggs, the female mosquito needs protein to help her eggs develop and the needed protein can only be derived from blood.
The blood can come from animals or humans, she is an equal opportunity blood-sucker. After the female has had her fill of blood she will rest for a few days and then lay her eggs. The clutch (also called a ‘raft’) she lays will contain 100-200 eggs. The eggs are laid in water and will spend their first 10 days of life in the water.
The female typically lays three clutches during her short lifespan of around two months. Not all of the eggs will survive until adulthood, but many of the ones that do will be females that need to feed on blood.
How Do Mosquitoes Bite?
Mosquitoes do not have teeth, they have 47 sharp daggers that run along each side of a long, piercing proboscis. With a weapon like that, who needs teeth?
The proboscis is an elongated mouthpart that is used like a hypodermic needle to pierce the skin. It is strong enough to pierce through clothing and then through the skin. The serrated edges of the proboscis make it easy for a female mosquito to quickly pierce the skin and locate a capillary. She has two tubes through which she can suck the blood of her victim. All this takes place so quickly that the victim has already lost blood before realizing a bite has occurred.
If left undisturbed, she can drink up to three times her body weight from a single victim. There’s no cause for alarm regarding blood loss when bitten, it would take well over one million mosquito bites to drain all the blood from a human body. The cause for alarm about one of these insect bites is what they leave behind after they bite.
Why Do Mosquito Bites Itch?
The proboscis is covered with saliva, and when it pieces the skin the saliva enters the human body. The immune system instantly reacts to this foreign substance by sending histamine to the bite area in an attempt to flush out the foreign substance. The histamine (which is produced naturally by the human body) increases the blood flow and the white blood count to the bite area, this causes swelling and inflammation.
All this activity around the mosquito bite area does not go unnoticed by the surrounding nerves. The surrounding nerves respond to the extra histamine in the area by causing the area to itch. And just so you’ll know, scratching will make the itching worse. This is one reason anti-histamine is often prescribed to treat any type of skin irritation, including mosquito bites, it stops the itching.
Malaria is one of the best known diseases that mosquitoes carry. A parasite that carries malaria lives in the saliva of female mosquitos and gets passed into a human when bitten. Not all mosquitoes carry malaria, but they do have the potential to do so.
West Nile virus, Zika virus, Chikungunya virus, dengue, yellow fever and various forms of encephalitis affect both humans and horses. Canine heartworms are caused by a bite from a carrier mosquito. For a tiny insect with no teeth, the mosquito is very dangerous.
How Mosquitoes Pick Their Victims
Your own body heat helps them find you and the best capillary to pierce in your body. Our warmblood makes us prime targets for hungry mosquitoes, and the heat sensors located around their mouth tell them the perfect spot for bloodsucking.
Mosquitoes feed day and night, so it’s difficult to avoid the blood-suckers all the time. There are few things we can do to reduce the risk of mosquito bites when we go outdoors.
These blood-sucking insects are attracted to sweat. The chemicals released in human sweat are like ringing a dinner bell for a hungry mosquito. Perfume, scented lotion and scented deodorant are also mosquito attractors. The carbon dioxide we exhale also grabs the attention of the insects.
Reduce Your Risk
To help reduce the risk of being bitten, don’t wear any scented products when going outdoors. Try to limit outdoor activity to early morning when mosquito activity is at its lowest and wear light-colored coloring.
Use an insect repellent that contains DEET (diethyltoluamide), or organic picaridin and lemon-eucalyptus oil, to reduce your risk.
Remove all outdoor items around your home that hold water. Mosquitoes must have water to reproduce, removing standing water reduces the population.