No one likes mosquitoes. They are annoying, and no one is safe from their itchy bites. They are just one of those things we have to put up with if we want to spend time outside in the summer.
Almost every person in the world has been bitten by a mosquito. Maybe it’s helpful to know that humans are not a mosquito’s first choice for biting. They would rather bite birds, cows and horses than people.
The world is home to about 3,500 species of mosquitoes. Of these, about 200 live in the United States. Mosquitoes live just about everywhere in the world, but most species prefer warm, humid locations. They all like water because it is an essential part of their life cycle.
Here are five more facts about mosquitoes.
They are the deadliest animal on Earth
When you think of deadly animals, sharks probably come to mind. Or maybe bears and lions and other big cats. In reality, though, the tiny mosquito is the deadliest animal on Earth.
The main cause of death because of mosquitoes is malaria. The illness kills more than 1 million people a year and infects about 200 million people every year. About half the world's population is at risk of contracting malaria from a mosquito bite. Although malaria is not common in the United States, it does sometimes occur here.
Malaria is one of several life-threatening conditions that can be transmitted by mosquitoes. In the United States, the greatest risk from mosquitoes is developing encephalitis from mosquito-borne illnesses such as St. Louis encephalitis and West Nile virus.
Only female mosquitoes bite
You don’t need to hate all mosquitoes, because not all mosquitoes bite. Only female mosquitoes bite humans and other animals, and they do it for a good reason. They need protein from blood to produce eggs. Male mosquitoes only eat nectar, and they can't bite because they don't have mouth parts that can pierce into skin.
Do you know someone who seems to be a repeated target of mosquitoes? You're not just imagining it. An unlucky 20 percent of people are mosquito magnets, getting bit more than others.
Why female mosquitoes prefer some people's blood to others remains a mystery, although a few factors do seem to play a role. People with Type O blood seem to be a preferred target. People who exhale more carbon dioxide also tend to get bit more, as do people who sweat and have higher body temperatures.
Their bites itch because you're allergic to their saliva
Why do mosquito bites itch? Essentially, it's because of an allergic reaction. When a mosquito bites, its mouth parts pierce the skin, injecting their saliva into your skin. Proteins in the mosquito's saliva are viewed as foreign by your body, which triggers an immune response that results in the familiar itching, redness and swelling we associate with mosquito bites.
While no doubt annoying, most mosquito bites are usually mild and will clear up after a few days. However, more rarely people may develop large areas of redness and swelling around a bite and may also experience hives, a low fever and swollen lymph nodes. This type of reaction, sometimes called skeeter syndrome, is more common in children or people with health conditions that affect the immune system. It can also occur when someone is bit by a type of mosquito they have not been bitten by before.
Not all mosquitoes are deadly
Although the mosquito is the most deadly animal on Earth, the vast majority of mosquitoes are not carriers of disease. Of the more than 3,500 known mosquito species, the females of only 6% of them bite humans. Of this 6%, only half cause illness in humans.
Of all the mosquitoes in the world, it's just three genuses of the insects that are responsible for most mosquito-borne illnesses. Culex mosquitoes can transmit West Nile virus, encephalitis and filariasis. Aedes mosquitoes can transmit dengue, encephalitis and yellow fever. The only mosquitoes that are known to carry malaria are Anopheles mosquitoes.
Illinois is home to both Culex and Aedes mosquitoes. Culex mosquitoes lay eggs in still water, including both natural and man-made sources. Aedes mosquitoes lay their eggs in soil that becomes flooded.
They are an important part of the food chain
It’s easy to imagine a world without mosquitoes. In reality, mosquitoes are an important part of the food chain because they are eaten by a lot of other animals.
Thousands of different animals consume mosquitoes. This includes well-known mosquito-loving animals like bats and birds, but also many fish, reptiles, lizards and mammals. Even other insects like dragonflies eat mosquitoes.
Mosquitoes also have another important ecological role: pollinator. Remember that many mosquitoes feed on nectar. In the process of collecting nectar, they can carry pollen from flower to flower, which aids in pollination.
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