The annoying buzz of mosquitoss can quickly ruin a warm summer evening outdoors with friends. Nowhere is spared. Every state in the US is home to at least a few species of these annoying pests.
At least 176 species are found in the US, with new ones reported regularly. Nine new species have been recorded in Florida alone in the last decade.
Mosquitos are irritating pests but not every species bites nor do they all carry disease. Several live in habitats that rarely bring them into contact with humans. But when they do, mosquitoes are the most deadly animal on the planet.
There has been a massive growth in mosquito numbers over the past few decades. This has been linked to rural development and population expansion rather than climate change. However, the increase in mosquito-related diseases has been associated with a rise in temperatures and, in some states, rainfall.
Mosquitoes are members of the order Diptera, true flies, meaning they have two wings. The insect’s shape is distinctive, with long legs and a slender body.
Many kinds of mosquito are similar in appearance and hard to differentiate. Both male and female adults are normally brown although a few species have black and white markings on their bodies and legs.
In the majority of mosquitoes, males have feathery antennae and look more fragile than the females. Males feed on nectar or plant sap, lacking the mouthparts to pierce skin.
All mosquitoes need standing water to complete their life cycle, but habitat preference may vary by species. Some only require water as shallow as a quarter of an inch to breed. This ability to multiply in such a small amount of water makes them a difficult pest to control.
Mosquitoes go through four stages of development: egg, larva, pupa and adult.
Many types of mosquito lay their eggs, frequently numbering a hundred or more, in rafts on the surface of the water. The larvae from these may hatch within one or two days. Other species lay their eggs at the water line or nearby damp soil, where they can survive the dry or even freezing conditions for months. As soon as the water level rises the larvae hatch, often in unison.
Mosquito larvae live in water, feeding on algae, plankton, and other small organisms. Despite their aquatic life, they need to breathe air so most have a siphon at their rear through which they breathe. Hanging down in the water has given rise to their common name of wrigglers.
After four skin changes, the wriggler will be about half an inch long and ready to pupate. The length of time spent in the larval form depends on temperature and species but can be as short as four days.
The pupae, unlike those of many insects, can move and are called tumblers due to the way they fall through the water when disturbed. They quickly rise to the surface again to breathe through two small tubes. The pupal stage is normally brief, sometimes as little as two days.
An adult female’s lifespan can be anything from a few weeks to several months but the males typically live only a week.
Mosquitoes may overwinter as eggs or dormant adults.
Only female mosquitoes feed on blood, which they need for egg production. Females can detect suitable prey from about 30 yards.