Kelly’s Field Notes
Common Name: Mosquitoes, Mozzies
Species of Note:
Asian Tiger Mosquito (Aedes albopictus) - invasive treehole mosquito, important vector of many diseases
Yellow Fever Mosquito (Aedes aegypti) - invasive mosquito from Northern Africa, came to the U.S. during the slave trade, vector of yellow fever and many other diseases
Elephant mosquito (Toxorhynchites spp.) - species native to the U.S., a true hero that does not feed on blood but does feed on other mosquitoes!
Mosquitoes are tiny flies belonging to Family Culicidae. Most are pretty small, 0.15 inches in length but we do have a few biggies. The Gallinipper Mosquito (Psorophora ciliata), for example, can grow up to 1 inch in length! They come in many colors, though the species we discuss in the podcast are mostly from genus Aedes, which tend to be black, with white striped legs (not Aedes triseriatus!), and white striped abdomens. Mosquitoes have two wings, two halters (their second set of wings are more like clubs that sense humidity and air movement), and mouth parts that either pierce skin for blood drawing (most females), are straw like for nectar (males, Elephant mosquitoes), or are club shaped/sponge like for gathering honeydew from ants (genus Malaya).
Mosquitoes are important parts of the food web ecosystem. Males and females are pollinators, adults and larvae are food sources for many groups of animals. Some species are very important to some species of orchid, working as one of their primary pollinators. I know no one wants to hear this, but even diseases and their transmission are an important part of overall ecosystem health.
Depending on the species, female mosquitoes either lay their eggs on floating rafts (genus Culex, for example) or along the water line (genus Aedes, for example). Some even drop eggs mid-flight, like the beautiful genus Sabethes. Mosquitoes go through 4 stages/instars before pupating, then becoming adults. We sometimes call larval mosquitoes wrigglers because of their erratic movements in the water column. Mosquito larvae generally feed on bacteria, plant detritus, algae, or decomposing organisms. Some species, like those belonging to genus Toxorhynchites, are predators and feed on each other and other species of mosquito larvae. Mosquito development is very dependent upon environmental factors, such as water temperature, nutrient availability, competition, and predation stress. It could take a few days to a few months for larvae to mature into adults. However, when they are ready, they first become pupae. A mosquito pupa cannot eat and survives off of its larval fat stores. They are sometimes called tumblers due to the tumbling motion they make when they swim. Pupae spend most of their time at the waters’ surface, where they can breathe, waiting until the right time to eclose (emerge as an adult). Once adults emerge they take to the skies, looking for food.
Adults can live for a few weeks to a few months, depending on species. While males feed on nectar, females will take a blood meal when she is ready to lay eggs (after fertilization). Some females do not require a blood meal for their first batch of eggs, this is called autogeny. Some species don’t require any blood meals ever to produce eggs (genera Toxorhynchites and Malaya, for example). Mosquitoes are just as specialized as the next insect! In order to create these eggs, males and females come together in swarms to mate. They differentiate between species by the frequency of their wing beats. Some wing beats are similar rough where we get cross-species mating, which may or may not be viable depending on the couple.
Adaptability - mosquitoes are found in a variety of habitats, all over the world, and feed upon a wide range of hosts.
Survivability - despite many eradication attempts in certain parts of the world, mosquitoes of those targeted species persist.
Mosquitoes in Culture:
The Tlingit people of North America wore mosquito masks during some of their religious ceremonies.
Haudenosaunee people of North America have a myth where mosquitoes used to be giant, the size of humans. They would torment the Haudenosaunee, who moved from place to place to get away from them. Eventually, they could flee no longer and beat the giant mosquitoes into a pulp. From the broken bodies of the giants came a swarm of tiny mosquitoes, who are our modern mosquitoes now.
Winegard, Timothy C. The mosquito: a human history of our deadliest predator. Text Publishing, 2019.
Gallinipper Mosquitoes and Other Insects | Disaster Education | Nebraska. disaster.unl.edu/gallinipper-mosquitos-other-insects.
Genus Malaya Leicester, 1908 | Mosquito Taxonomic Inventory. mosquito-taxonomic-inventory.myspecies.info/genus-emmalayaem-leicester-1908
Genus Toxorhynchites Theobald, 1901 | Mosquito Taxonomic Inventory. mosquito-taxonomic-inventory.myspecies.info/genus-toxorhynchites-theobald-1901.
“Mosquito | Description, Life Cycle, and Facts.” Encyclopedia Britannica, www.britannica.com/animal/mosquito-insect.
Mosquito Mask. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/318766
Shields, Jesslyn. “The Sabethes Mosquito Is the Showiest in the Rainforest.” HowStuffWorks, 24 Aug. 2022, animals.howstuffworks.com/insects/sabethes-mosquito.htm.
“The Legend of the Mosquitoes.” Oneida Indian Nation, www.oneidaindiannation.com/the-legend-of-the-mosquitoes.
Thien, Leonard B. "Mosquito pollination of Habenaria obtusata (Orchidaceae)." American Journal of Botany 56.2 (1969): 232-237.