Just like any living creature, mosquitoes need to eat. Their particular dietary preferences are undoubtedly annoying for humans, but we think understanding the science behind why mosquitoes drink blood is pretty interesting! Here’s what you need to know about mosquitoes and what they eat:
How Do Mosquitoes Eat?
Like many insects, mosquitoes have a feeding tube, or proboscis, that allows them to drink nectar or blood. Due to the diet differences between males and females (which we’ll get to later), the probosci's anatomy is different for each sex.
The female’s proboscis is designed for sucking blood. At first glance, it looks like a simple tube. However, that tube encases a set of tools that serve several different purposes: anchor the mosquito to its host, pierce the skin, inject an anti-coagulant mixed with saliva into the host, and pump blood back up. The saliva that is injected into the host is what causes the itching and swelling after a bite. When a female mosquito lands on a host, her mouthparts probe around to find a blood vessel, which can sometimes take a couple of minutes.
As compared to the female’s thin proboscis, the male’s is wider and feathery. It is also much less specialized because it is not used for drinking blood.
If you’re not too squeamish, check out this microscopic footage of a female mosquito searching for blood vessels in the skin of a mouse. You can see all the various mouthparts in action.
How Does a Mosquito’s Diet Change During Its Lifespan?
Mosquito eggs are laid in standing water, sometimes one at a time, occasionally attached to form “rafts.” The eggs typically hatch within 48 hours, revealing the larvae.
Larvae are very active they are sometimes called “wigglers” due to their method of movement. During this stage of life, they require a huge amount of energy and food, so they constantly feed on organic materials in the water, like algae, fungi, and bacteria. Toward the end of this stage (which can last anywhere from four to fourteen days), the average larva reaches about ½ inches in length and stops eating.
It then progresses into the pupa stage. Pupa does not eat but is still active. They are commonly called “tumblers,” which describes how they move. Pupae float on the surface of the water for one to four days, surviving only on oxygen.
Once the pupae are mature, they split out of the case, rest until their bodies dry and harden, and then begin to search for food.
What Do Adult Mosquitoes Eat?
As adults, male and female mosquitoes have very different diets. Male mosquitoes exclusively feed on nectar and plant juices, especially those high in sugar.
Besides feeding on nectar to obtain energy like their male counterparts, female mosquitoes drink blood. Blood is a necessary part of the female mosquito’s diet because it is full of nutrients, proteins, and amino acids, making it the perfect prenatal supplement to nourish mosquito eggs.
The blood can be provided by warm- or cold-blooded animals, birds, or humans. Believe it or not, mosquitoes prefer blood from horses, cattle, smaller mammals, and birds over human blood. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop them from biting humans. Female mosquitoes are capable of consuming almost 300 mL of blood per day!
Most female mosquitoes only drink blood during the early morning and sunset, as they seek shelter during the hottest parts of the day. However, Asian Tiger mosquitoes will hunt all day.
Female mosquitoes find certain blood types more appetizing, which explains why some people are prime targets, while others don’t get bitten as much. A majority of humans release a chemical through their skin that indicates their blood type. Mosquitoes can detect this, and studies have shown that they prefer Type O blood over A or B types. Mosquitoes are also attracted to lactic acid, uric acid, and ammonia, which are all found in sweat. So, if you’re sweating, expect to be bitten more. Oddly, female mosquitoes also prefer the blood of pregnant women.
If you want to avoid being on the menu for mosquitoes this summer, contact DC Mosquito Squad today to find out what we can do to keep your local mosquito population in check.