May 6 – Bite Me!

Today’s factismal: Mosquitoes pollinate many types of flower including goldenrod and orchids.

The mosquito is the “little fly” (the literal translation of its name from Portuguese) that everyone loves to hate. Annoying, whining, disease vectors, they are better known for the few times that they suck blood than for the majority of times that they feast on plant nectar. But it is true; the male mosquito only eats the nectar of certain plants while the female will only indulge in a bit of vampirism when she’s ready to lay eggs; otherwise, she’s a confirmed nectar-eater, too. Among the plants that mosquitoes like to visit are the goldenrod, orchids, and chocolate.

A Adeles mosquito feeding on an unlucky victim (Image courtesy CDC/ James Gathany)

An Anopheles mosquito feeding on an unlucky victim
(Image courtesy CDC/ James Gathany)

So if mosquitoes feed on plants, why do they also attack people (and other animals) for blood? Simply put, they do it for the sake of their children. In order for a mosquitoes eggs to hatch properly, they need to contain a specialized protein that is commonly found in the blood of animals. Scientists still aren’t sure which protein it is (some like to point to those with threonine), but they know that without that protein and the iron in blood, mosquito eggs won’t hatch.

Teddy Roosevelt on his history-making trip to the Panama Canal (Image courtesy National Archives)

Teddy Roosevelt on his history-making trip to the Panama Canal
(Image courtesy National Archives)

Mosquitoes find that protein by quite literally following their nose. They can smell the difference between different animals and hone in those with more of what they want. In a recent experiment using identical and non-identical twins, mosquitoes were found to attack one identical twin about as often as the other but would frequently attack one non-identical twin twice as often as the other, demonstrating the mosquitoes ability to smell out the best source of goodies for their eggs. Other studies have shown mosquitoes are more attracted to people who are heavy breathers (which spreads the scent farther),  those who haven’t bathed recently (which gives a lot more odor), and folks with type O blood.

Places that breed mosquitoes (Image courtesy Richardson Mosquito Patrol)

Places that breed mosquitoes
(Image courtesy City of Richardson Mosquito Control)

Though mosquitoes are just doing what they need to do to provide for their children, they do a lot of damage along the way. They can carry diseases such as Dengue fever, malaria, yellow fever, and elephantitis; during the construction of the Panama Canal, an estimated 20,000 people died from mosquito-borne diseases. Sadly, that toll continues today, all over the world. But some places are doing something about it. Places like Baltimore, which has started a citizen science program to identify places where mosquitoes are thickest so that they can find the breeding areas and drain them. TO learn more, buzz over to:
http://baltimoremosquitoes.weebly.com/

 

One thought on “May 6 – Bite Me!

  1. Pingback: July 6 – Adam And Eve And Mabel | Little facts about science

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