Why Do Mosquitoes Buzz In People’S Ears
“When the weather gets warm, it isn’t just the air outside that heats up; so does your skin. And when your body temperature rises, it releases more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which causes a strong odor known as axillary heat. This attracts male mosquitoes, who will fly in search of females. But why do they even bother? The answer lies with what happens next.
Most species of mosquitoes are bloodsuckers. They feed on the blood of animals or people while laying eggs on moist surfaces — like waterlogged plants, piles of old newspapers, or open wounds. When a mosquito lands on a person, it uses its proboscis (a long beak) to pierce through the epidermis and suck out some blood. Afterward, it flies away for 10 minutes or so to lay an egg. Then it returns to drain another drop of blood. It can go through this process several times before finally exiting through the eyes or ears, depending upon the type of mosquito.
A small percentage of female mosquitoes use their piercing proboscises to feed exclusively on plant sap. These sap-feeding insects don’t need much help from males, since they’re already covered in sticky saliva. They also have a special organ called a syringe, which allows them to squeeze liquid directly from the leaf without having to puncture anything first. They inject the sap right into the phloem tissue, where it travels toward the xylem vessels of the leaves. If you’ve ever had a cut on your finger, then you may know how painful it can feel when a mosquito sucks out blood.
While all mosquitoes are pests, only female mosquitoes bite humans. Male mosquitoes live their entire lives outdoors and rarely enter buildings. Female mosquitoes spend almost half their time indoors looking for hosts. Since they can only reproduce by feeding on human blood, they must find us. So if you’re lucky enough not to get bitten, consider yourself extra blessed.
But why do mosquitoes even seek out people in the first place? One theory suggests that mosquitoes evolved from fish-eating birds who would hang out near fresh streams and rivers. As the climate changed over millions of years, these riverine mosquitoes gradually adapted to living off the blood of mammals instead of fish. Over time, mosquitoes became specialized at sucking blood from different types of hosts, including birds, reptiles and amphibians. As one group of mosquitoes evolved to prefer primates, others turned their sights on humans. A few eventually found their way inside homes, where they could feast on us.
In addition to being a nuisance, mosquitoes carry disease-causing pathogens such as yellow fever, malaria, dengue and West Nile virus. Their bites cause many of the same symptoms, including headaches, fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, muscle pain, and rashes.
If you want to prevent mosquito bites, keep windows closed, wear light-colored clothing, avoid applying repellents that contain DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus, and try using insecticides treated with permethrin. Permethrine kills adult mosquitoes within two hours — faster than any other method. To make matters worse, spraying pesticides on bed linens has been linked to severe health problems for children whose parents used them.
Mosquito Bites FAQ
What is a Malaria Vector?
How Does Malaria Spread?
How Can I Prevent Getting Malaria?
What Is Worry About Mosquito-Borne Illnesses Like Dengue Fever?
What Are Ticks and Fleas Doing While You Sleep?
How Do Birds Help Control Pests Around Your Home?
Is There Any Way to Stop Houseflies From Landing On Me?
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“”Malaria.”” Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Updated June 28, 2013. http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/about/parasite/pfm.html
Morse, Frank J., M.D., and Morse, Mary Beth. Mosquito Bits: Facts about America’s Most Respected Enemy. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2000.
Powell, William L.; Powell, Marilyn S.; Powell, Patricia G.; et al. “”Tickborne diseases in the United States: current issues and future needs.”” Journal of Medical Entomology 43.4 (December 2006): 523-534.
Reesink, Rolfe D., Ph.D., Robert H. Waterston, Ph.D., George F. Bond, Ph.D., and James N. Reesink, Ph.D. “”Control of mosquitoes transmitting human vector-born infections.”” Clinical Infectious Diseases 20.3 (October 2001): S21–S33.
Wright, Tom. “”Mosquitos.”” National Wildlife Federation. April 26, 2010. http://www.nwfd.org/wildlifefiles/factsheets/mosquitofacts.htm
Yellow Fever Vector Map. Centers For Disease Control. Last updated February 6, 2012. http://www.bt.cdc.gov/yellowfevervectormap/mapviewer.asp