As I wandered along my favorite stretch of the Rocky River, I heard the whining of wings near my ear and felt a little pinch on my arm. At this point, most would have slapped their arm and said “got him,” but not me. I curiously watched the insect as her abdomen became larger and redder. Just when I thought it was about to burst, she flew away.
|A female mosquito feeding on blood |
What I witnessed was a female mosquito obtaining a source of protein (my blood) for egg development. Yes, it’s the female, not the male that bites and sucks blood. Males spend much of their time feeding on nectar. The female’s piercing mouthparts act like a hypodermic needle and also releases an anticoagulant that causes the allergic reaction of itching and inflammation we experience as a mosquito bite.
| ||Mosquito larvae |
Females lay their eggs singly or in rafts on the water surface. For many species any temporary puddle or pond will do. Within days the eggs hatch into tiny larvae, called wrigglers, that eat algae and organic debris. The larvae breathe air through a hollow tube similar to a diver’s snorkel. When the larvae stop growing they enter a transition stage called the pupa which is curled and hunched and breathes through hornlike structures on its back. Within the pupa the amazing process of complete metamorphosis is occurring. The larval tissues gradually break down while small groups of adult cells, which have existed in the larva all along, rapidly multiply to produce the familiar adult mosquito that emerges through a crack on the back of the pupal exoskeleton. A close look will reveal the feathery antennae of the males and simpler antennae of the females.
| ||The life cycle of a mosquito |
Mosquitoes are a vital part of nature’s food chain. Fish and other aquatic organisms feed on larvae and pupae. Bats and insect-eating birds like chimney swifts and nighthawks consume large numbers of adult mosquitoes. Imagine all the mosquitoes there would be if so many of them were not eaten!
With your new understanding of mosquitoes, if you still have the urge to swat one, at least remember to say “got her.”
By Sharon Hosko
Brecksville Nature Center