1. Not all mosquitoes feed on humans. Of the thousands of mosquito species flying around the world, many prefer animals to humans. Some like to feed on birds, others like turtles and frogs, and still others prey on mammals such as deer and rabbits. The species that feed on both humans and animals are the most worrisome, because they can transmit diseases from birds and other mammals to people. Mosquito-borne diseases are now responsible for one of every 17 deaths on the planet.
2. Wisconsin is home to 55 or 56 different mosquito species. These are tough little insects. Most survive the winter in the egg stage, but some can survive as larvae frozen solid in ice. Others make it through by hiding in culverts or tree holes until it warms up enough to fly.
3. Only the females bite. Mosquitoes feed on nectar and fruit juices, and for males, this is the only food they need. But females need the protein in blood to produce eggs. Typically, a female will lay 30 to 100 eggs per meal, usually three days after feeding. They sometimes draw more than their body weight in blood, which is why mosquitoes are heavy and slow after feeding.
4. A mosquito might find you more attractive than your friends. It’s true that some people draw more attention from mosquitoes, most likely because of subtle differences in body temperature, the amount of carbon dioxide in our breath and chemicals in our skin. There’s also some evidence that certain people may produce skin chemicals that naturally repel mosquitoes.
5. That sure-fire home remedy? It probably doesn’t work. People have suggested lots of ideas for preventing mosquito bites, including eating garlic or taking vitamin B supplements. So far, there’s no scientific evidence to suggest these strategies are effective. The best bets are to use synthetic and plant-based repellents, avoid brushy areas and wear long sleeves and pants. With support from UW-Madison’s Industrial and Economic Development Research program, we’ve created a web site that explores many of these methods. To learn more, visit www.entomology.wisc.edu/mosquitosite/.
Susan Paskewitz is a professor of entomology who specializes in the study of mosquitoes. When she’s not digging into the biology of mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and West Nile, she works with environmental health agencies to monitor mosquito populations and recommend strategies for controlling them.