Dangerous Animals: The Mosquito
The deadliest animals on earth are mosquitoes!
When you think of dangerous animals, your mind probably goes immediately to man-eating sharks, tigers, lions, or other big predators. Or perhaps your first thoughts are of venomous snakes or spiders. Surprisingly, the deadliest animals on earth are tiny, and these deadly creatures lack the claws and big sharp teeth that you might normally associate with the world’s most dangerous animals. This unassuming little killer is the mosquito, believe it or not. More specifically, it’s the anopheles mosquito. This mosquito species is considered the deadliest creature because it’s responsible for the most human deaths every year.
There are more than 3,000 species of mosquitos, and all of them aren’t dangerous to humans. Many mosquitoes, however, carry diseases that can be deadly to humans and animals. The most important mosquito-borne diseases that affect humans are dengue fever, West Nile virus, Rift Valley fever, Ross River fever, Chikungunya, elephantiasis, and malaria. Of all these diseases, malaria is the deadliest. According the Centers for Disease Control, malaria causes about two million deaths each year, worldwide. Most cases are spread by Anopheles mosquitoes.
There are more than 400 species of Anopheles mosquitoes, and of that number, more than a hundred are capable of spreading malaria. Like other mosquito species, the Anopheles begins as an egg. A female lays up to 200 eggs at one time, always in water. In warm climates, the eggs take just a couple of days to hatch, while in cooler areas, the eggs might take as long as three weeks to hatch.
The eggs hatch into mosquito larvae, which can swim. They survive by feeding on microorganisms, both on and under the surface of the water. These mosquito larvae are very adaptable. They can survive in fresh water, salt water, and even in small mud puddles. After several changes, the mosquito becomes a pupa, and within just a few more days, the pupae become adult mosquitoes. The entire process might take as little as a week.
Anopheles mosquitoes are found in much of the world. This includes Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, the northern sections of South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. In the United States, the Anopheles mosquito can be found in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, California, Oregon, Washington, and in all the states east of the Mississippi River.
The Anopheles mosquito and malaria
Malaria is actually caused by a parasite known as Plasmodium. How do mosquitoes spread Plasmodium? As you know, mosquitoes feed on blood from animals and humans. When the mosquito sucks blood from an infected human or animal, the Plasmodium enters the body of the mosquito and creates sporozoite cells that wind up in the mosquito’s salivary glands. When an infected mosquito bites a host and feeds on their blood, the Plasmodium is transferred to the new host.
After a human has received a mosquito bite from an infected mosquito, symptoms of malaria will usually present quickly. Major symptoms of malaria include coldness, vomiting, shivering, fever, pain in the joints, sweating, anemia, and convulsions.
Almost all cases of deadly malaria are caused by just one Plasmodium, Plasmodium falciparum. Most cases occur in Africa, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, but there have also been cases in Central America, South America, the Middle East, and India and other Asian nations. Malaria was almost completely eradicated in the United States by 1947, but before that, some 30% of the people living in the Tennessee River Valley were affected by malaria. It’s important to remember that not all forms of malaria are life-threatening.
Mosquito repellent and mosquito eradication
Nobody likes mosquito bites! Even if you’re in an area where malaria has been eliminated, there are other diseases you can get from mosquito bites. The best way to ensure your protection is to get rid of the mosquitoes and to avoid them as much as possible. Standing water invites mosquitoes to lay their eggs, so eliminate these “mosquito nurseries” when you can. If you have garden ponds in or near your yard, add some fish that will eat the mosquito larvae.
Most experts believe the best mosquito repellent is one that contains DEET. DEET is a yellowish oil that was developed by the U.S. Army. There have been several theories as to why DEET works as a mosquito repellent, and I won’t get into all of those here. Suffice it to say that mosquitoes just don’t like it! Spray a mosquito repellent that contains DEET on your skin and on your clothing.
If you want a more natural mosquito repellent, try a few common plants: citronella, pennyroyal, lavender, catnip, and basil. The stems and leaves of marigold plants can also serve as an effective natural mosquito repellent. Some people also swear by Bounce dryer sheets, garlic, rubbing alcohol, and Listerine as mosquito repellents. I haven’t tried all of these, but my husband works outdoors a lot, and he says the Bounce sheets help some, but they’re better at discouraging gnats than mosquitoes. From my personal experience, a spray with DEET is the best mosquito repellent against these dangerous animals.