Backyard Biology

Nature stories from my backyard and beyond

Nature Stories

Mosquito Personalities

Friday, November 4, 2011

Describe, if you will, the personality of a mosquito.

Asked this question, most people would answer, “annoying, pestifierous, vicious, ferocious, savage, vile” or some such adjective.
Asked this question, most entomologists would ask, “Which mosquito are you asking about?”

There are over two hundred types of mosquitoes in the U.S. And just as no two types of birds behave exactly the same, no two types of mosquitoes do either. Each has its own personality. My intention with this story is not to defend the personality of any mosquito. After all, most of them need some sort of a blood meal for their eggs to develop, thereby causing misery to some type of animal. However, learning a little about their personality differences may help us appreciate them a little more - as we swat them.

Here are some of these differences

Host Preference
It may seem at times that every mosquito for miles around is interested in your blood and your blood only. This, however, is not true. Although many mosquitoes are opportunists, feeding on whoever is at hand, many have preferred hosts. turtle with mosquitoesSome feed almost exclusively on reptiles and amphibians while others prefer birds. Some go for large mammals while some specialize in small mammals. My personal favorites are those that are not known to feed on humans, of which there are surprisingly many.

Attack methods
There is nothing so annoying as to be driven into the safety of your house to escape a bloodthirsty swarm of mosquitoes, only to find some of their brethren already in the house waiting for you. Only a few types of mosquitoes are normally found in houses. Of these, some attack quickly while others like to hover for a while. These hoverers are the mosquitoes that drive you crazy with their buzzing as you are drifting off to sleep.

Dawn and dusk are the preferred feeding times of some mosquitoes while others have no objection to feeding during the day. Some never leave the shadows of the woods while others prefer open spaces. Some are low fliers and go for the ankles, while others are high fliers, aming for the head. Some are timid creatures and are easily scared off while others are very aggressive, only leaving you alone when they have been fully fed or fully swatted.

Blood Meal
biting mosquitoMost female mosquitoes need a blood meal to provide protein and other nutrients for egg development. In some mosquitoes, they can’t develop eggs wthout the blood meal. In others, they can lay eggs without a blood meal but can lay more eggs with a blood meal. Because of this need for blood, the personality of the female mosquito differs greatly from the male.
Males don’t lay eggs. They don’t need the protein in blood. They don’t bite. Of course, they must feed, but they don’t feed on blood. Rather, they will sip nectar from flowers. Being a nectar sipper sounds harmeless enough until you realize that the females also feed on nectar as well as blood.
There is one group of mosquito that doesn’t need a blood meal for egg develpoment. The reason for this is that their larvae, unlike the larvae of most mosquitoes are carnivorous, feeding on a protein-rich diet of small aquatic organisms including other mosquito larvae. The old saying that the only good mosquito is a dead mosquito does not hold true for this one. This type of mosquito has been used to control populations of other mosquitoes. Unfortunatly, they do not occur as far north as my home here in Massachusetts.

Egg Laying
It seems like there are enough differences in the egg-laying habits of mosquitoes to insure there are always mosquitoes available to torment us.
Many mosquitoes lay their eggs on the surface of quiet water. Some prefer brackish water while others lay only in fresh water. Some lay their eggs in permanent bodies of water like lakes and ponds while others use any temporary body of water like puddles and roadside ditches. Some lay their eggs only in woodland areas while others use any artificial container found around human habitation such as old tin cans and discarded tires.larva
Another group of mosquitoes lay their eggs on vegetation just above the water. These eggs can survive long periods of drought. However, if they are submerged by rising water from rain or snow melt, the eggs quickly hatch.

Seasonal preferences
Some like it hot. Some like it cold. There is a mosquito for just about any season.
Of course, being an insect, mosquitoes aren’t active in the cold weather. However, since some types of mosquitoes hibernate as adults, a warm winter day may find them out and about looking for a meal.
Many mosquitoes spend the winter as eggs. Depending on the species, they may hatch at different times of the year. Some hatch during the snow melt in early spring while other prefer to wait for warmer summer temperatures.

You may have noticed that I have not given any names to the different types of mosquitoes. Frankly, what would be the point of that. Since most mosquitoes are known only by their scientfic names and since most people can't tell one mosquito from another, knowing that Aedes vexans is a vicious human biter while Culisieta melanura feeds mainly on birds and Uranotaenia sapphirina prefers amphibians is not likely to change your reaction to any mosquito within ten feet of you. They get close, they get swatted. However, knowing a little about the different personalities of mosquitoes may make you stop and wonder about these amazing insects, these annoying, pestifierous, vicious, ferocious, savage, vile creatures - before swatting.