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Mosquitoes: A Brief Overview


Over 150 species of mosquitoes have been identified in the U.S. The 4 most significant genera and selected pest species are Culex (northern house mosquito, southern house mosquito), Anopheles (common malaria mosquito)Ochlerotatus (eastern salt-marsh mosquito) and Aedes (yellow fever mosquito). These represent most of the commonly encountered blood feeding and disease vectoring mosquitoes in the U.S. With spring/summer fast approaching this information can be extremely valuable to anyone who has concerns about these pesky and potentially dangerous insects.


Mosquitoes can be found throughout all areas of the U.S. Each of the many species of mosquitoes has its own particular niche for breeding and survival. For instance, in some species their eggs are required to freeze over the winter to maintain viability, other species require long dry periods for survival. Some species thrive only in salt marshes, while others have adapted well to laying eggs in tree holes, temporary pools of standing water or even small containers found in homeowners’ yards. Due to this wide diversity of habitat preference, each region has species of mosquitoes that thrive in the local environment.


There is some variation from species to species on details of development cycles, but in general, mosquitoes lay eggs in or around water, where they develop into larvae. The larvae are aquatic and will molt four times, pupate and finally emerge as adults. The adult stage is the only stage associated with biting humans. Some mosquitoes are strong fliers, such as salt marsh mosquitoes that are capable of traveling miles from their breeding area for a meal. Others stay close to their breeding area to feed. Also, some mosquitoes feed more actively in the day, while others are more active at night. When not feeding, adult mosquitoes rest in protected places, usually dark, damp areas with little air movement which provides them cover from the elements. Male mosquitoes do not feed on blood. Instead, they feed upon plant nectar. Females of most species, but not all, must take a blood meal in order to obtain the protein needed for egg development. Female mosquitoes are quickly attracted to humans and other warm-blooded animals through their ability to perceive movement, sense thermal cues and detect chemicals expressed through respiration.


Mosquitoes have been implicated in vectoring many diseases to humans. Malaria, encephalitis and West Nile virus are among the more serious. Yellow Fever and Dengue Fever are two other very serious problems worldwide. Aside from the serious health risks, mosquitoes’ presence is annoying to humans who spend time outdoors, their bites produce itchy welts and the enjoyment of many outdoor areas is curtailed.