Bloodsuckers

13 Aug
A mosquito fills her belly with a blood meal on an arm.

A mosquito fills her belly with a blood meal.

One weird aspect of becoming an entomologist is that my basic, instinctive reactions to many events has changed.  I’ve mentioned before admiring cockroaches at a restaurant, and  my own particular research has gotten me quite cozy with fire ants.  Apparently, I will also pause to photograph the mosquito sipping blood from my arm as well.  (Bonus oddness:  While I was photographing the mosquito above, a fellow grad student called dibs on it for his collection.)

Mosquitos are flies (order Diptera) belonging to the family Culicidae. The family name is derived from latin ‘culex,’ basically referring to little flying insects  (think ‘midge’ or ‘gnat’).  In their adult form mosquitoes are primarily nectar feeders.  Only female mosquitoes take blood meals, and then only in order to nourish developing eggs.  In the picture above, you can see the fine piercing stylet being used to withdraw blood, as well as the protective sheath which has been folded back in a U-bend.

The mosquito also has the honor of being the first insect I saw on my trip to Argentina last winter.  It was waiting in the rental car for us:

Mosquito (Culicidae) in car window.

Mosquito in car window (Argentina).

This proved to be especially portentous since Argentina was rife with concern over dengue fever, a dangerous mosquito-borne disease that has been making a comeback in the urban centers of Argentina.   The signs we saw most often carried the slogan ‘entre todos contra el dengue’  (all of us against Dengue), and directed people to eliminate standing water (where mosquitoes breed) and be alert for symptoms of the fever.

Posters warning of mosquito-transmitted dengue fever in Argentina.

Posters warning of mosquito-transmitted dengue fever in Argentina.

In fact, the mosquito is the deadliest animal in the world, causing (through the transmittance of disease) more than 2 million human deaths per year.  (Oddly enough, the biggest cause of human deaths by large animal may be the hippopotamus.) Just as diseases can be transmitted from human to human by the use of unsterilized needles, the mosquito’s needle like proboscis can vector diseases from person to person, all without any harm to the mosquito itself.

Mosquito feeding in Argentina

Mosquito feeding in Argentina

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