Mosquitoes: What to Know

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on January 24, 2023
4 min read

If you’re an outdoorsy person, live around bodies of water, or enjoy sitting outside at night, you’ve probably had the misfortune of encountering the flying, blood-sucking insect known as the mosquito. What are mosquitoes, anyway? Are they important to the environment, or are they just pesky, annoying, and sometimes dangerous creatures waiting to make you their next meal? 

Mosquitoes are a type of flying insect that are usually observed at night. They belong to the Diptera family, also known as the True Flies family.

Are mosquitoes important? While they can be a nuisance to humans, mosquitoes play an important role of pollinators in the ecosystem — similar to bumblebees. They help fertilize plants and participate in the formation and reproduction of seeds. 

Mosquitoes are also an important part of the food chain because they are a meal source for other creatures. They are favored by dragonflies, turtles, bats, and birds. 

What do mosquitoes eat? The diet of mosquitoes consists primarily of sugar such as the nectar from flowers and other plants. Nectar is the primary food source for male mosquitoes. While female mosquitoes often stick to nectar-producing plants, they sometimes need the blood from humans or other animals to survive, especially after laying eggs.

Worldwide, there are more than 3,000 species of mosquitoes — 176 of which are native to the United States. Some common mosquitoes are the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the Culex mosquito, and the Anopheles quadrimaculatus mosquito.

Mosquitos can be identified by their wings — uniquely, they have two sets of scaly wings extending from their backs. Other defining features vary between males and females. For example, female mosquitoes have long proboscises for mouths to help them penetrate the skin and suck blood whereas male mosquitoes only have feathery antennae.

Mosquitoes can be found in many parts of the world and are common throughout the United States. Some mosquitoes like living near people, where the females have access to plenty of food sources from both people and animals. Other mosquitoes like to live near water sources and in forests and tall grasses. No matter where they reside as adults, mosquitos all spend the first stages of their lives near water. 

Mosquito life cycle. The mosquito life cycle consists of four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. The life cycle begins when a female mosquito lays her eggs — usually on an inner wall of a dampened structure that is above the waterline. She lays around 100 eggs at a time, which stick to the surface upon which they are laid and can survive dry conditions for up to eight months.

After rain when the water level has risen, or when someone adds water to the place where the eggs were laid, larva emerge from the eggs. In the larval stage, mosquitoes eat microorganisms found in the water. After molting three times, pupae emerge and continue to develop into adults, finally leaving the water. 

Once matured into adults, male mosquitoes search for nectar-producing flowers while female mosquitoes search for humans and animals to fuel their egg production.

Mosquito bites can be dangerous because they are known vectors of disease. Some diseases caused by mosquitoes include the following:

  • Zika virus: Zika is transmitted from mosquito to person, and then from person to person through sexual intercourse. Symptoms include headaches, joint and muscle aches, a mild fever, skin rash, and irritated eyes. The virus also affects babies in utero.
  • West Nile virus: The West Nile virus is a life-threatening disease that causes headaches, a fever, stiffness in the neck muscles, confusion, convulsions, weak muscles, and coma.
  • Malaria: Also potentially fatal, Malaria presents symptoms such as fever, headache, and vomiting.

Common symptoms of mosquito bites include:

  • Irritation in the form of a puffy and reddish bump, usually appearing within minutes after a bite
  • A bump that is hard, itchy and red to brown in color 
  • Several bumps forming the same day as the bite or in the days following 
  • Small blisters forming in place of hard bumps 
  • Dark spots that are similar to bruises

Severe reactions are more likely to occur in children, adults exposed to a new mosquito species, or people who are immunocompromised.

If bitten by a mosquito, gently wash the area with soap and water. You can apply an ice pack or cold compress to the area as frequently as needed to help reduce itching and swelling. To aid the healing process, you can make a paste using baking soda and water, or purchase over-the-counter anti-itch or antihistamine creams to help relieve itching. 

There are a few ways to eliminate the presence of mosquitoes and reduce the possibility of bites. 

First, eliminate standing water sources as mosquitoes are attracted to it and often use it as breeding sites. To reduce standing water in your yard:

  • Clean your gutters and ensure proper drainage. Corrugated drain pipes can hold water in them, so opt for a smooth drain pipe instead. 
  • Empty trash and recycling bins, flower pots, wading pools, tires and other items around your yard at least twice a week. 
  • If you have a pond, place goldfish or mosquito fish inside. 
  • Clean bird baths and pet dishes every three days, adding fresh water each time. 

Second, use insecticide like permethrin to repel mosquitoes. You can spray areas of the outdoors to keep them away from areas where people gather, or you can spray your clothes to keep them away from your body. Ensure the products are safe to use and follow directions carefully. If you have pets, you should ensure the products are safe to use around animals as well. 

Finally, you can use other alternatives to sprays and chemical repellents, including the following: 

  • Citronella candles
  • Mosquito lamps
  • Butane-powered repellers