MosquitoInsect Class: Aedes
Genus: Culex
Order: Diptera
Species: Over 50 in Minnesota
Common name: Mosquito

Mosquitoes — everyone knows what they are. They annoy us with their buzzing sounds and painful bites. More than one picnic and outdoor event has been ruined by mosquitoes who made being outside unbearable!

Mosquitoes belong to the insect order Diptera, which are True Flies. And, like all true flies, mosquitoes have two wings. But, mosquito wings have scales on them. And, like everyone knows, mosquitoes (the females, at least) also have mouthparts that are long and needle-like with the ability to pierce skin and suck blood.

Minnesota has lots of mosquitoes. In fact, there are over 50 different species of mosquitoes that live in Minnesota. Mosquitoes are so common that they have been called Minnesota's "unofficial state bird."

If you can't remember what a mosquito sounds like, here's something to jar your memory:

speaker.gif - 142 Bytessounds of summer in Minnesota (141k .wav file)

Mosquito Life Cycle

Mosquito Life Cycle Mosquito eggs need water to hatch. That's why there are so many mosquitoes after it rains. Female mosquitoes lay their eggs directly on the surface of water or on the edges of water. The eggs hatch after they have been flooded by water. If it's dry after the eggs are lain, the eggs can sometimes lay dormant for years before they get wet enough to hatch.

Females lay their eggs in bunches called "rafts." Each raft can have up to 400 eggs! Once the eggs hatch, the larvae or "wigglers" swim around and eat bits of organic matter floating around in the water. You can sometimes see them at the surface of water -- they are small and their bodies move in a S-shaped motion. The larvae go through four growth stages called "instars" before they molt into the pupa stage. The pupal stage lasts to two to three days. Then, a week after the eggs hatched, adult mosquitoes emerge from the water. Two days after emerging, female mosquitoes are ready to track you down and suck some blood so they can go make more mosquitoes. The male mosquitoes just hang out and eat flower nectar or plant juices.

Most mosquitoes stay close to where they were hatched so they can raise another brood. Some mosquito species only have one generation each year. Others can have four or more!

In the winter, most mosquitoes survive as eggs in the soil. These eggs are in a dormant stage called "diapause" which prevents them from hatching if it floods. They'll only hatch out of the diapause stage when the day length gets longer. Some adult females and also some large pupae can survive the winter (also in a diapause stage) if they can find a protected spot.

Mosquito Trivia!

Did you know that:

  • There are over 3,000 mosquito species worldwide
  • Mosquito eggs can survive for more than five years.
  • One female mosquito can lay over 200 eggs at one time.
  • Only female mosquitoes bite and take blood. Male mosquitoes feed only on plant nectar.
  • Not all mosquito species bite people. Some prefer birds, or horses, or even frogs and turtles.
  • All mosquitoes need water to complete their life cycle.
  • A mosquito weighs about 2 to 2.5 milligrams.
  • Mosquitoes can fly about 1 to 1.5 miles per hour.
  • Mosquitoes find hosts by sight, by infrared radiation and by chemicals.
  • Mosquitoes infect 500 million people around the world each year with diseases, such as encephalitis and malaria.
  • Mosquito-induced diseases kill more than 2 million people around the world each year.
  • Mosquitoes are the primary food for many birds and bats. One bat can eat 200 mosquitoes in one night and birds eat hundreds of mosquitoes every day. Without these mosquito predators, we would really have a mosquito problem!

Why Mosquitoes are Really Bad

Because mosquitoes pierce your skin with their needle-like mouths and leave some of their saliva in your body when they bite you, they can also leave behind some nasty diseases. In some areas of the world, these diseases kill thousands of people each year. Some of the more common diseases transmitted to people (mostly in tropical climates) by mosquitoes include:

  • Dengue
  • Encephalitis
  • Malaria
  • Yellow Fever

Mosquitoes also transmit disease to animals. These diseases include:

  • Heartworm -- mostly to dogs and cats
  • Encephalitis

In Minnesota, mosquitoes can transmit encephalitis to people. To reduce your chance of getting this disease, do the following:

  • Apply mosquito repellent to your skin and clothing when spending lots of time outdoors when mosquitoes are around.
  • Don't let water accumulate in areas where there are no mosquito predators. This especially includes: old tires, buckets, cans, jars or anything that will hold water. Remember, the mosquito larvae only needs a week in water to hatch!
  • Keep screens with a 16 x 16 or 14 x 18 mesh on your windows and doors to keep the whiny bugs out of your house.

The United States has worked very hard to reduce the risk of mosquito-born diseases through its mosquito control programs. Therefore, many of these diseases are rare in the this country. However, incidences of mosquito-born diseases has seen an increase in recent years.

Why Mosquitoes are Also Good

Early European explorers to North America referred to the huge numbers of bugs that hatch in the spring -- especially mosquitoes -- as the "scourge of the north." They can get so bad sometimes that they'll force a full-grown moose to go into water up to it's nose just so it can escape the painful bites. Mark Twain wrote that, "two could whip a dog and four could hold down a man."

So with all their bad characteristics, do mosquitoes have any good qualities? Why, yes! They are a major food source for lots of critters. Mosquito larvae are food for fish and other meat-eating creatures that hang out in water. And when the adult mosquitoes emerge from the water, they are food for bats, birds, dragonflies, spiders and anything else that can catch them and also happen to eat meat. One of the reasons many birds migrate to the north each year to breed is because of the plentiful supply of bugs, including mosquitoes, that they can feed to their young.

So, while you're swatting away at these annoying bugs, remember that mosquitoes actually do serve a purpose in the cycle of life.

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We are grateful to the generosity of others whose previously published information was used to create this page about mosquitoes. Please visit their Web sites for more information about mosquitoes. These generous folks include:

Mosquito artwork is courtesy of Ohio State University Extension Service and is used with permission.

The "song of the mosquito" recording is courtesy of Bob Suchanek of the MPCA, who was bitten repeatedly by hordes of voracious mosquitoes during the process.