They feed on blood to get the proteins they need to produce eggs. NIAID supports research to learn how female mosquitos transform blood meals into eggs. This information may help us figure out how to prevent egg production and thereby reduce the number of mosquitoes.
Both sexes feed on plant nectar for their own nourishment. But only females feed on blood so they can make eggs, which they lay in standing water.
Mosquitoes find people using several complex sensory systems. Dark colors, body heat, and smells from body chemicals, such as carbon dioxide and lactic acid, all attract mosquitoes. They can smell carbon dioxide from 75 feet away. NIAID-supported researchers are examining mosquito sensory systems in search of new ways to stop mosquitoes from finding people.
Mosquitoes spread many serious diseases, making these insects the world’s most deadly animal.
Mosquito saliva contains chemicals that, among other actions, prevent blood clotting and provoke an immune reaction—followed by itchy red bumps—on the bitten person’s skin.
There are more than 3,500 species of mosquitoes worldwide. NIAID supports research around the world on mosquitoes that spread human diseases. For example, NIAID-funded investigators are looking at the biology of mosquito species in North and South America, Africa, India, and Asia.
Of the thousands of species of mosquitoes, only those in the genus Anopheles transmit the malaria-causing Plasmodium parasite to humans. In 2013, there were about 198 million cases of malaria in the world, resulting in an estimated 584,000 deaths, mostly among African children, according to the World Health Organization. Fighting malaria and reducing its devastating toll is one of NIAID’s highest priorities.
Female mosquitoes find their human blood meals by detecting carbon dioxide emitted when people exhale. NIAID-funded researchers identified three types of odor molecules that disrupt the carbon dioxide-sensing machinery of mosquitoes. One molecule switches mosquitoes’ olfactory nerves “on” for prolonged periods, one turns the olfactory nerves “off,” and a third type mimics carbon dioxide.
Scientists at NIAID and around the world are developing and testing vaccines against the mosquito-borne illnesses dengue fever, West Nile virus, chikungunya, and malaria. They are also perfecting such novel approaches to mosquito control as a fungus that prevents malaria parasites from developing inside the mosquito and a bacterium that makes mosquitoes resistant to malaria parasites.
Reduce your risk at home and abroad by applying insect repellent and covering exposed skin. Remove any standing water from your property to eliminate mosquito breeding sites and keep mosquitoes outside by ensuring window and door screens are in good repair. When traveling in countries where malaria or other mosquito-borne illnesses are present, use repellent, sleep in screened rooms or under bed nets, and follow medical advice regarding malaria prophylaxis drugs.
Last Updated August 19, 2015