All night long it levitated around my face making that annoying “buzzing” sound, threatening to suck my blood. It deprived me of sleep and made me curious how this tiny little nothing can create so much havoc. I also wondered if they only feed at night, which is when I tend to hear them. I found out that mosquitoes are actually quite complex.
Mosquitoes have been around for about 210 million years so they definitely have a rightful place in the world. There are over 3,500 species of mosquitoes and some are considered to be deadly. In particular, the Anopheles mosquito is dangerous because it transmits malaria, which kills more than one million people every year, mostly in Africa. Malaria is caused by a parasite that lives in mosquitoes. The parasite gets into mosquito saliva and is passed on when the insect bites someone. West Nile and other viruses are also transmitted the same way. The two main mosquito predators are fish and dragonflies. In particular, Gambusia, or mosquitofish, feed on mosquito larvae and is used worldwide to help control mosquito populations.
I was fascinated to learn that this tiny animal has six legs. They also have a head, thorax and abdomen. On the head are two large complex eyes, two simple eyes, two antennae and a proboscis which is what they bite you with. Two large, scaled wings sprout from the thorax. I cannot imagine so many body parts in something so miniscule.
Only female mosquitoes bite – not something I would put on my resume if I was a female mosquito! They locate a capillary and draw blood which is the protein they need to help their eggs develop. Once a female mosquito has bitten you, she’ll rest a a day or two before laying her eggs. Female mosquitoes can lay up to 300 eggs at a time. Usually, the eggs are deposited in stagnant water. The first 10 days of a mosquito’s life is spent in water. Water is necessary for the eggs to hatch into larvae, then pupae, and over several days, become adult mosquitoes. Females will lay eggs up to three times before they die. And yes, mosquitoes have no shame – they feed during the day and at night.
The average mosquito lives for less than two months. Males usually live for 10 days or less, and females can live for up to 8 weeks. To avoid being their prey, I try and repel them by avoiding dark clothing, skin lotions, perfumes and trying not to sweat. Insecticides only work in the short term and zappers are useless. The only thing you can really do here is to use mosquito netting over your bed to protect you from these pesky buzzers.
Oh, and if you are new to Africa, malaria pills are a must, even though they cost an arm and a leg!
I must admit that I now have a grudging respect for mosquitoes. I don’t like them and don’t think they add much value to life. But I am impressed with how this tiny little nothing can be so annoying, especially at night, when one gets inside your mosquito netting. Then, a nightly ritual begins with me chasing the slippery critter around the bed. To my delight, I have discovered that the mosquito is so stupid that it tries to shrink and hide itself on the white netting. This allows me to zero in on the little black mosquito and kill it with my bare hands. So far, I am 20 for 21. So game on!