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Klemek: Mosquito facts offer little consolation

It's critical to protect skin against mosquito bites, because, according to the Minnesota Department of Health, there are several diseases transmitted by mosquitoes that are of potential concern to Minnesota residents, such as West Nile virus and malaria. (File photo)

There are over 3,000 species of mosquitoes worldwide. About 176 of those species can be found in the United States. And of these 176, over 50 species call Minnesota home.

Take heart though, because not all "skeeters" bite, and those that do are females. Some consolation, hey?

Male mosquitoes survive on sugar-rich fluids obtained from plant nectar and other plant juices. But the female, though surviving on the same foods, seeks out blood-meals from mammals for the nourishment of her developing eggs following mating. Protein-packed blood provides her eggs with the needed sustenance to grow and mature.

Eggs are laid in the water, mostly in calm water, but some species lay eggs in flowing water. After the eggs hatch, it takes about two weeks for a mature, flying mosquito to emerge from their aquatic, swimming larval form. Living very short lives from just one day to about two months depending on the species, the female mosquito's one and only purpose is to mate and

seek out blood meals. And she does this in a very unique way.

Because of special receptors located on her mouthparts, female mosquitoes find intended victims quite easily. All of us know this to be the case as we step outside and are attacked soon afterward. Mosquitoes are able to detect us from the carbon dioxide we exhale as we breathe, from the lactic acid on our skin and from our body heat. Though we can't change what we exhale from our lungs, we can mask the lactic attractant on our skin by either covering ourselves with clothing or using repellents, which is either directly applied to the skin or on the actual garments we wear.

The actual bite of the female mosquito is made possible by the insect's piercing and sucking mouthparts and an anticoagulant that the insect injects to prevent clotting from occurring while "drinking" its meal. Two to three blood meals may be necessary to lay its first batch of eggs. And once eggs are laid in the water, it doesn't take long for a new population of

mosquitoes to join the masses.

Since mosquitoes require water for egg depositing (not a problem in Minnesota!), final development and the subsequent life forms prior to adulthood, dry seasons, therefore, produce less of these aquatic-dependent insects. Warm and wet seasons usually mean more mosquitoes.

Seasons dominated by drought and heat usually mean fewer of these pesky little facts-of-life in Minnesota.

Also, in ponds where fish and minnows are present, mosquito larvae do not survive very well. But in stagnant, temporary wetlands, pools and other microhabitats where no predators exist, mosquito larvae flourish. Standing water in farm fields are especially important to mosquito production.

So what are we to do? For one thing, don't provide places for water to collect, like old tires or containers. Construct or purchase bat houses and install them at suitable locations on your property. Bats do eat mosquitoes, but they also eat many other species of flying insects.

Protect yourself whenever you venture outdoors by wearing clothing that will cover your skin. And use insect repellent and where special clothing that's now available with repellent infused fabric.

It's critical to protect your skin, because, according to the Minnesota Department of Health, "there are several diseases (transmitted by mosquitoes) of potential concern to Minnesota residents." Malaria can be carried by people returning to Minnesota from other countries. And West Nile Virus, which was first found in Minnesota in 2002, continues to be a concern. In fact, West Nile has been linked to the deaths of some species of wild birds.

Members of the crow family, Corvidae, seem especially vulnerable to the virus. And just last fall, Minnesota DNR began a study to determine if the virus can be detected in hunter harvested ruffed grouse.

Although mosquitoes are fed on by many creatures of the animal kingdom, and numerous plants depend on the insect for pollination, would we be better off without mosquitoes? Most people would say so, but with or without the mosquito, this bothersome and biting insect is nonetheless a part of the web of life as we get out and enjoy the great outdoors.