Spring has come and gone, now welcome to mosquito season. As you pack your bags for the beach house or the mountain campground don’t forget to pack light colored clothing with long sleeves, long pants and a bucket load or two of insect repellent.
How much we enjoy summer in North America depends a lot on how many mosquitoes there are waiting for us outside. Their bites are itchy and their buzzing annoying, but there’s also reason for concern; mosquitoes carrying dangerous diseases are lying in wait to use us as their next meal.
What causes mosquito populations to explode and shrink? Truthfully, it’s a combination of weather and climate — mosquitoes are very sensitive to their environment. Temperature and rainfall are two major predictors of mosquito populations, and this is for a good reason: These two factors have the greatest effect on their survival and ability to reproduce.
Mosquitoes like it warm and wet. Like most insects, mosquitoes are cold-blooded, or ectothermic. Their body temperature closely matches the temperature of the environment (air or water) around them. If it is cold outside, they are cold. If it is warm outside, they are warm. Any time spent beyond their comfort zone can slow down or stop their development or even cause them to be injured and die.
There are more than 3,000 species of mosquitoes buzzing around on our planet, and a small handful of those actively feed from humans. And even then, only female mosquitoes feed on blood (required for egg production). The less intimidating males drink flower nectar.
Some mosquito species are far from being just bothersome, they carry dangerous diseases. In North America, West Nile virus is carried by the Culex mosquito and can cause serious health issues, including coma and paralysis. In tropical regions, mosquitoes are vectors of malaria, yellow fever, dengue, chikungunya and Zika viruses. These debilitating diseases cause hundreds of thousands of deaths each year. Two of the major offenders include the, Yellow fever mosquito or Aedes aegypti and the Asian tiger mosquito known as Ades albopictus.
The most effective mosquito repellent to date, is Deet. A repellant that contains 5 to 7 percent Deet will ward off the hungriest of mosquitoes. Why is it so effective? Because it tastes bad! Researchers have found that Deet doesn’t leave a bad taste in a mosquitoes’ mouth, but on the tongue-like cells on their feet.
Now, when you’re outside, coated in DEET, realize this: You still smell good enough to eat. Mosquitoes still want to drink your warm, red blood. But your skin tastes really, really gross…… to their feet.