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The Mosquito Solution - The Ultimate guide to mosquitoes and mosquito borne diseases

Updated on July 7, 2016

Knowing the different stages of the mosquito's life cycle can help you prevent them from colonizing your yard and also help with the right solution when they do. The life cycle of all mosquitoes is comprised of the egg, larval, pupal and adult stages. However the length of the mosquito life cycle does vary between species and is dependent upon environmental factors such as temperature and moisture.

The first three stages occur in water. However after a mosquito is fully developed, it will emerge as an adult from its pupal case, stand upon the water, dry its wings and prepare for flight. Not all mosquitoes bite, male mosquitoes actually feed off plant nectar, and it's only female mosquitoes that bite humans (and animals) for the protein found in blood. They need this to develop their eggs and ensure survival of the species. Furthermore they don't just randomly select a target, but have well documented preferences for choosing their victims.

The mere act of breathing in and out attracts mosquitoes
The mere act of breathing in and out attracts mosquitoes
Two large compound eyes covered with tiny lenses detect movement
Two large compound eyes covered with tiny lenses detect movement
Body Heat Marks the Target
Body Heat Marks the Target

High Tech Hunters

These high tech hunters choose their targets through a combination of heat, smell and visual cues, including movement.

Using their keen sense of smell they are able to detect and track you from a very long distance based on the odor plumes you give off. From 120 feet away (50m) they can smell your scent. As you exhale, carbon dioxide (CO2) and other odors mix to produce a plume that travels through the air stream inviting mosquitoes to swarm closer. They follow your scent upwind, but won’t actually see you until they are 30 feet (10m) away.

The mosquito then uses its two large compound eyes, designed for spotting motion, to help guide it in. On the top of its head two simple eyes, called ocelli, are photosensitive and the mosquito uses these to key in on lights and bright colors as well.

When they are 10 feet (3m) away they use extremely sensitive thermal receptors on the tip of their antennae to detect the warmth of your body. The range of these receptors increases threefold when the humidity is high.

A male Anopheles gambiae mosquito feeding on nectar
A male Anopheles gambiae mosquito feeding on nectar

Are You A Mosquito Magnet?

Scientists have discovered that genetics account for a whopping 85% of our susceptibility to mosquito bites. They've also identified certain elements of our body chemistry that make mosquitoes swarm closer. Lactic acid, uric acid, ammonia and cholesterol as well as CO2, acetone and estradiol released in our breath all contribute to our attractiveness. Some people may give off stronger scents than others, making them more prone to getting bitten, even though everyone produces these compounds. There's a lot of research underway on what compounds and odors people excrete that mosquitoes find attractive. However with over 400 different compounds to examine it's a long and laborious process.

Sometimes it's just not you -- it's them! Different species have different cues for being attracted, and according to entomologist Janet McAllister, not all mosquito species are attracted by the same things.

Important pest species that are attracted by CO2 include Culex, Aedes and Anopheles mosquitoes.

Aedes aegypti (Dengue fever mosquito) favors the colors red and black and like Aedes albopictus and Anopheles albimanus mosquitoes, are strongly attracted to human sweat. Armpit sweat being more attractive than sweat from other parts of the body.

Anopheles mosquitoes home-in on human body odors; from the carbon dioxide in our breath to the ammonia in our sweaty feet.

Medically Important Mosquitoes

Just as different mosquito species carry different diseases, different species are active at different times as well. While most mosquito species are active from just before dusk, through the night until dawn - you can be bitten at any time.

Mosquito Species
Main Attractants
Biting Times
Aedes aegypti
Zika virus, Dengue fever, Yellow fever, Chikungunya
CO2, Sweat, Octenol, Colors Red & Black
Dawn & Dusk & Day
Aedes Albopictus (Asian Tiger)
West Nile virus, Dengue fever, Yellow fever, Chikungunya
Visual Cues, Dark colors, CO2, Sweat
Day Early Morning & Late Afternoon
Aedes vexans
West Nile virus
Dawn & Dusk & Night
Anopheles albimanus
CO2, Sweat, Light
Anopheles quadrimaculatus
Malaria, Dog Heartworm
CO2, Ammonia, Light
Dawn & Dusk & Night
Culex pipiens
St.Louis Encephalitis, Western Equine Encephalitis, West Nile virus, Dog Heartworm
CO2, Light
Dawn & Dusk & Night
Culex restuans
West Nile virus, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, Western Equine Encephalitis
CO2, Sweat, Light
Dawn & Dusk & Night
Culex tarsalis
St. Louis Encephalitis, Western Equine Encephalitis, West Nile Virus
CO2, Sweat, Light
Dawn & Dusk & Night
Coquillettidia pertubans
West Nile virus, Eastern Equine Encephalitis
Body heat, Light
Dawn & Dusk & Night
Ochlerotatus canadensis
West Nile Virus, Dog Heartworm, Eastern Equine Encephalitis
Skin Warmth
Dawn & Dusk & Day & Night
Ochlerotatus triseriatus
West Nile Virus, La Cross Encephalitis
Skin Warmth, Skin odors (Octenol)

Mosquito Borne Diseases

Zika Virus
Zika virus is spread to people primarily through mosquito bites. Two species, Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus (Asian Tiger) are capable of carrying the virus. However it can also be sexually transmitted. According to the CDC, a man with Zika virus can pass it to his female or male partners during vaginal, anal, or oral (mouth-to-penis) sex without a condom. And a pregnant woman can pass Zika virus to her fetus during pregnancy. Zika is a cause of (microcephaly) and other severe fetal brain defects.

The most common symptoms of Zika virus disease are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week. In fact 80% of people who have the virus show no symptoms and don't know they have it.

On 1 February 2016, the World Health Organization declared the Zika virus a public health emergency of international concern because of its links to both the brain defect microcephaly, and the auto-immune disease (Guillain Barre Syndrome) a disease that can lead to paralysis and death.

The CDC have issued a travel alert warning pregnant women to avoid countries where the virus is circulating. They have also warned women to refrain from unprotected sex with men who have visited those countries, following increased reports of sexual transmission of the virus.

Some infectious disease experts believe it's only a matter of time before mosquitoes with the virus make their way to the United States. They believe Zika is likely to follow a path similar to dengue fever in the United States, with outbreaks beginning in Puerto Rico and Florida and spreading across the Gulf states.

West Nile Virus
West Nile Virus has spread rapidly across the U.S. infecting thousands of birds, horses and humans, since it was first discovered in New York City in 1999. By 2004 it had spread to almost all of the continental U.S., 7 Canadian provinces, throughout Mexico and parts of the Caribbean. Culex and Aedes mosquitoes are known carriers of the virus.

Most people infected with West Nile virus (WNV) don't experience any signs or symptoms, or may experience only minor ones, such as fever and mild headache. In rare cases, infection can lead to inflammation of the brain and the spinal cord (or the tissues surrounding it). There is a vaccine for horses, however there’s currently no human vaccine, and the only way to avoid WNV is to avoid getting bitten. On the plus side, researchers believe that people who are infected once develop a natural immunity to WNV that will last the remainder of their lives.

Dengue Fever
Dengue fever is found mostly in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. However, it has made its way into the United States where the Aedes aegypti or Yellow fever mosquito is the primary vector. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reports that numerous cases of dengue cropped up in the United States and its territories throughout 2013.

High fever, headaches, back and joint pain, rashes and eye pain are symptoms of Dengue. If the fever lasts up to a week and is followed by bruising and bleeding, those are symptoms of dengue hemorrhagic fever. There is currently no vaccine or specific treatment for Dengue. Doctors recommend acetaminophen, plenty of fluids and rest for dengue and hospitalization for hemorrhagic fever.

The disease started in Africa but exploded in Southeast Asia in 2005 and has been spreading ever since. At the end of 2013 the first cases were discovered in Caribbean countries and experts predict that with international travel increasing, especially Caribbean cruises, the disease's arrival in the U.S. within the next two years is inevitable.

Tipped to be the 'next West Nile Virus' Chikungunya is transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes, especially Aedes aegypti (the yellow fever mosquito) and Aedes albopictus (the Asian tiger mosquito).

Symptoms can include sudden fever, joint pain with or without swelling, chills, headache, nausea, vomiting, lower back pain, and a rash. The symptoms are similar to those of Dengue fever, but unlike some types of Dengue, people who have Chikungunya do not experience hemorrhage (bleeding) or go into shock.

La Crosse Encephalitis (LACV)
La Crosse encephalitis virus is transmitted by the Aedes species of mosquito which is most active during the daytime. LACV occurs in the Appalachian and Midwestern regions of the United States and was first discovered in La Crosse, Wisconsin in 1963. Since then the virus has been detected in several Midwestern and Mid-Atlantic states.

Many people infected with LACV have no apparent symptoms. For those people who do become ill, the initial symptoms include fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, and tiredness. Some people can develop severe neuroinvasive disease (disease that affects the nervous system). In rare cases, long-term disability or death can result from La Crosse encephalitis.

Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEEV)
Eastern equine encephalitis (EEEV) is, as its name implies, primarily caused by a virus that infects horses. This mosquito-borne viral disease also infects humans and some species of birds. The virus received its name after a major outbreak occurred in horses in the coastal areas of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and Virginia in 1933. Additional outbreaks occurred in Virginia and North Carolina in 1934 and 1935. States with the largest number of cases are Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts and New Jersey.

Mosquitoes were first determined to be potential carriers of EEEV in 1934. Various mosquito species of Aedes and Culex can transmit the virus to humans. EEEV transmission is most common in and around freshwater swamps in the Atlantic and Gulf Coast states and the Great Lakes region. Cases of human infection are less likely because the primary transmission occurs in swampy areas where the mosquitoes live, but most humans don’t. Once infected with the virus, many humans have no apparent symptoms. However, some develop symptoms ranging from mild flu-like to inflammation of the brain, coma and death.

Malaria is rare in the United States and is most often found in Africa, Southern Asia, Central America, and South America. Efforts to combat the spread of malaria are now mainly dependent on artemisinin-based drugs (ACTs), as the malaria parasite became resistant to older drugs that treated the disease.

Malaria is transmitted by the Anopheles mosquito who primarily bite during the nighttime hours. Once infected, the symptoms include anemia, fever, chills, nausea, and flu-like illness and in severe cases coma and death. It is possible to prevent malaria by taking medicine before, during, and after travel to an area where the disease is present. However this isn't foolproof and doesn't always work because of the increase in drug resistant malaria in some parts of the world; especially Southeast Asia.

Human malaria is transmitted only by the Anopheles mosquito
Human malaria is transmitted only by the Anopheles mosquito

DIY Mosquito Management

Integrated mosquito management is a crucial part of reducing the risk to humans because it helps reduce the number of mosquitoes, especially those that can carry disease.

According to the American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA) effective mosquito management incorporates a variety of control methods i.e. surveillance, source reduction, biological control, traps, and environmentally friendly larvicides. And while the organization does not endorse specific products, it reports that, “traps represent an evolving technology that is a most welcome addition to the mosquito control armamentarium”.

The opposite of repellents, traps are actually designed to first ATTRACT, then trap and kill mosquitoes. Traps come in different shapes and sizes and there are a number of different brands, with different operating systems, to choose from. To help determine the trap best suited to your requirements is a whole new hub.

Citronella Torches
Citronella Torches
Spatial Repellents
Spatial Repellents

Prevention The Best Protection

Other ways you can help prevent mosquito bites:

  • Empty any freestanding water which could be providing breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
  • Wear light colored clothing that covers the legs and arms when outdoors
  • Use mosquito nets and fit screens to doors and windows
  • Use EPA approved personal insect repellents like DEET, Picaridin, or Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus
  • Use spacial repellents i.e. coils, citronella candles or torches

The AMCA's technical adviser, Joseph Conlon, says the latest thinking is that it might not be about what makes people more attractive to mosquitoes, but what makes them not as repellant. It could be that people who get less bites produce chemicals on their skin that make them more repellent, and cover up smells that mosquitoes find attractive.

However if you aren't one of those lucky people, but instead a 'mosquito magnet' then being proactive and taking protective measures against mosquitoes including the use of mosquito traps in outdoor areas to reduce mosquito numbers is probably your best defense. The capture of only a few mosquitoes daily can have a substantial impact on mosquito populations, because just one female mosquito is capable of laying up to 250 eggs at a time and as many as 3000 eggs during her lifetime.

Helpful Resources

Mosquito Information: American Mosquito Control Agency (AMCA)

Information on mosquito-borne diseases Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

A guide to Home Mosquito Control : MosquitoWorld


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