Mosquitos are members of the fly family. They’re big enough that most people can easily see them with the naked eye. Males have feathery antennae that help them sense the presence of female mosquitos. Females have less bushy antennae. Males usually live for about a week, while females can live for a few months.
Mosquitos may be small and have short lifespans, but they can wreak havoc on human lives. From their itchy bites to the diseases they can carry, mosquitos are often annoying and sometimes downright deadly.
Habitats and habits
Mosquitos live in grass and bushes located close to areas where humans live. Their favorite breeding ground is standing water. They gather in neglected birdbaths, clogged rain gutters, storm drains, pools, ponds, and other bodies of water that aren’t flowing.
Male mosquitos don’t bite humans, but females do. While both of them feed on plant nectar and water, females also need blood in their diet to reproduce. When they bite you, it usually leaves an itchy welt behind. They can also spread diseases between animals and humans, as well as from one human to another.
How do they bite?
Female mosquitos have long, tubular mouthparts that allow them to pierce your skin and feed on your blood. When they bite you, they inject saliva into your body while siphoning your blood. Their saliva contains proteins that most people are allergic to. Your immune system springs into action, causing the telltale red bump and accompanying itch of a mosquito bite to form.
Mosquitos choose their human victims based on the scent of carbon dioxide and other chemicals in your perspiration.
What do bites look like?
Almost immediately after a mosquito bites you, you may notice a round and puffy bump forming. In some cases, you may see a small dot at the center of it. The bump will soon become red and hard, with a small amount of swelling. It’s not uncommon to get multiple bites around the same time.
If you have an impaired immune system, you may experience a more severe reaction, such as hives, a large patch of swelling and redness, or swollen lymph nodes. Children often get a stronger reaction than adults.
What do bites feel like?
You might feel a stinging sensation when a mosquito pierces your skin. After that, the most annoying symptom of a mosquito bite is the itchiness.
Most of the time, reactions to mosquito bites are quite mild and go away within a few days. They can be more bothersome for children and people with impaired immune systems. In rare cases, you may experience a more severe allergic reaction that causes body aches, headache, and fever.
To treat mosquito bites, wash them with soap and warm water. You can also use over-the-counter pain relievers, antihistamines, or topical anti-itch medications to control pain and itching. Applying an ice pack to your skin can also provide relief from itching. If you have a child with itchy mosquito bites, make sure they keep their fingernails short and remind them not to scratch.
It’s rare for anyone to have a severe allergic reaction to a mosquito bite. If you develop body aches, headache, or fever after getting bitten, contact your doctor. These may be symptoms of a severe reaction or mosquito-borne disease.
Mosquitos can carry viruses, bacteria, and parasites in their saliva. When they bite you, they can transmit those pathogens into your body, causing severe and even life-threatening illness.
For example, mosquitos are known carriers of malaria, West Nile virus, dengue fever, yellow fever, and several viruses that cause encephalitis. Malaria is rare in the United States, but it remains common in some parts of the world. According to the World Health Organization, over 200 million cases of malaria occurred in 2015, and mosquitos transmitted most of them. That makes mosquitos some of the deadliest animals on earth.
Some diseases can’t be spread through mosquito bites. For example, you’re not at risk of contracting HIV or hepatitis from a mosquito bite.
You can’t prevent mosquito bites entirely, but you can lower your chances of getting bitten. Mosquitos breed in water, so try to avoid having standing water near your home. Empty anything that holds stagnant water. Change the water in your birdbaths once a week, and empty children’s wading pools when they’re not in use.
It’s also important to keep the grass and vegetation near your home well trimmed. Install screens in your windows to keep mosquitos out. And when you’re outside in wooded or grassy areas, wear long sleeves and pants and use insect repellent.
To help prevent mosquito-borne illness, make sure your vaccinations are up to date before you travel to foreign countries. Your doctor may also prescribe oral medications to help prevent malaria or other illnesses.