When a mosquito takes a bite out of you, don’t you wish you could take a bite out of the mosquito? Well, you can’t do it. But there are creatures that can. Yes, there are mosquito predators. What eats mosquitoes? We can tell you.
Predators That Feast on Mosquitoes
As you can surmise from the name, mosquitofish are known for their feasting on mosquitoes, in their case, on the larval form found in water. California introduced them in the 1920s to fight mosquitoes and continues to use them today. However, in some parts of the U.S., they are a native species.
In some places, if you walk into the Mosquito Control District office, they will give them to you – and give you a container to carry them home.
Scientific name: Gambusia affinis
Type: Ray-finned fishes
Size: Females, 2 1/2 inches; Males, 1 1/2 inches
Numbers: The female produces anywhere from 10-300 young per brood and 3 to 6 broods per year.
Hunger: They consume 42% to 167% of their body weight daily.
How to add them to your garden: Have a pond and stock it with these fish.
Dragonflies go after mosquitoes with such intensity they are called “mosquito hawks.” Because they hunt during the day and mosquitoes mostly fly at night, dragonflies do most of their predations on mosquitoes in the larval stage. But if they see a mosquito in flight, they will take it. Dragonflies will devour mosquitoes in all stages of their lives.
Scientific classification: Suborder Anisoptera
Type: Flying insect
Size: Wingspan of 2 inches to 5 inches, length of 2 inches.
Numbers: As many as 1,500 eggs at a time, and in several batches in the final year of their lives.
Hunger: They are voracious, eating hundreds a day.
How to add them to your garden: Have a pond with plants under the surface to attract dragonflies or add pollinating flowers.
Damselflies are smaller than their cousins the dragonflies, with thin bodies often described as looking like a needle (as opposed to the chunky body of the dragonfly). Damselflies are natural predators of mosquitoes, but as you would expect of a smaller creature, it doesn’t take as many.
Scientific classification: Suborder Zygoptera
Type: Flying insect
Size: Wingspan from ¾ of an inch to 1 3/4 inches for the most part, with one legendary damselfly wingspan (Megaloprepus caerulatus, found deep in the jungle) reaching 7.5 inches. Length of 1 1/2 inches.
Numbers: About 250 eggs per brood and 6 broods in a lifetime.
Hunger: Damselflies prefer mosquito larvae, and studies have found them consuming about half of what they find at a time.
How to add them to your garden: Same as with their cousin, the dragonfly.
Predators That Nibble on Mosquitoes
Frogs and toads do consume mosquitoes, but not until they have grown from tadpole to adult and then not a lot. Frogs and toads make short work of mosquitoes when they come across them, but more often eat other things. However, when adult frogs are inhabiting the same body of water, they out-compete mosquitoes for any food, which keeps down the mosquito population.
Scientific classification: Order Anura
Size: 2.8 to 3.9 inches (7 to 10 cm)
Numbers: A female frog can produce 4,000 eggs at a time. About 1 in 50 survive.
How to add them to your garden: Have a pond with frogs but no fish.
Bats will eat mosquitoes, but they will also eat whatever flying insects they come across. Their food sources are mostly beetles, wasps, and moths, studies have found, with mosquitoes making up less than 1% of stomach contents.
Scientific classification: Order Chiroptera
Size: The average size is 2 inches to 3 inches from nose to tail, with a wingspan of 10 inches.
Numbers: Most species have one birth per year.
Hunger: Up to some 600 mosquitoes per hour, a study found, meaning a colony of 500 bats could consume 300,000 per hour. However, it’s worth noting that many factors influence bat feeding behavior, including the time of year, access to other food sources, and the type of species, to name a few.
How to add them to your garden: Build a bat box.
Predators That Don’t Eat Enough Mosquitoes
The purple martin has long had a great reputation as a mosquito killer, but scientific research found it is undeserved. A three-year diet study conducted by the Purple Martin Conservation Association did not find any mosquitoes among the 350 beaks of insects parents were bringing to their young.
Purple martins are sometimes found to have no mosquitoes in their guts, and never more than 3%. They prefer June bugs, moths, bees, butterflies, wasps, and dragonflies. They just aren’t much of a mosquito-eating bird.
A pro’s tip: Purple Martins are pretty, so people like to introduce them to their garden for mosquito control. But they eat dragonflies, a major predator of mosquitoes, so even if the purple martins eat some mosquitoes, you will end up with more.
Scientific name: Progne subis
Type: Passerine (or perching) bird in the swallow family
Size: 7 ½ inches to 8 ½ inches
Numbers: 4-6 eggs per nest, one brood per year
How to add them to your garden: Put a birdhouse on a pole away from your house to attract birds. Have mosquitoes for them to feed on.
The predaceous diving beetles (Dytiscidae) and water scavenger beetles (Hydrophilidae) are known for going after mosquito larvae. However, they also go after all insects and animals including frogs, toads, salamanders, and small fish. Beetles are not used in efforts to control even disease-bearing mosquitoes in areas facing an outbreak.
Scientific classification: Order Coleoptera
Size: The 150 species of diving beetles in North America are 1/16 of an inch to 1 1/2 inches.
Numbers: If there is food available, the female will produce hundreds of eggs
How to add them to your garden: Have a pond with vegetation to attract aquatic beetles.
The red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta) turtle has proven to be effective in controlling mosquitoes in the larval stage. In Honduras during an outbreak, a single red-eared slider turtle was placed in each cement water-storage tank; within five weeks, 99% of the larvae was gone.
But there are two problems in using turtles to control mosquitoes:
- Turtles are mobile. They will leave that body of water, so they can be used only in places such as a tank.
- Mosquitoes attack turtles. Adult mosquitoes will attack and damage turtles.
Scientific classification: Order Testudines
Size: 5 inches to 11 inches
Numbers: An average of 6-11 eggs twice per year
Hunger: Voracious, when they are there
How to add them to your garden: Have a pond with lush vegetation.
Spiders that live in water, such as the European Argyroneta (Cybaeidae), the Dolomedes (Pisauridae), and Pardosa (Lycosidae), will feed on mosquito larvae, but only as one of the elements in their diet. The Paracyrba wanlessi spider will hunt for mosquito larvae, but only in the inside of bamboo stems.
However, a jumping spider (Evarcha culicivora) has recently been discovered to hunt mosquitoes, selecting females that are carrying blood. The jumping spider then uses the blood to find a mate (unlike other spiders, that don’t form a partnership) and produce eggs.
The jumping spider is found only at Lake Victoria in Africa, but it could well end up being imported around the world, especially in the fight to end malaria.
And spiders will eat any mosquito caught in their web.
Scientific name: Evarcha culicivora
Size: 1/10th of an inch to 3/10ths
Numbers: Female lays up to 4,000 eggs (in 17 sacs) in her lifetime.
Hunger: Voracious, but specific to females carrying blood they will use to produce eggs. Thus, the jumping spider will keep mosquito populations down.
How to add them to your garden: Include a shelter for spiders (such as an overturned flowerpot) and have lights at night (they attract food … such as mosquitoes).
Predators Being Developed to Control Mosquitoes
One class of flatworm is Turbellaria, which is a free-living marine species. Some Turbellarias will feed on mosquito larvae, especially in micro-water bodies, such as rain puddles. In a study, the flatworms ate 52% to 100% of the mosquito larvae in a laboratory setting.
Flatworms might be able to control mosquitoes. There is some belief that it has been occurring naturally in rice fields.
Scientific classification: Phylum Platyhelminthes
Size: 0.04 of an inch to 1.2 inches
Numbers: One Turbellaria can deposit 7,000–21,000 eggs per year.
Hunger: Voracious, apparently.
How to add them to your garden: You really don’t want them in your garden. But if you are fighting a serious mosquito infestation, you can order flatworms through the mail.
Copepods are distant relatives of shrimp and crabs that are found in both saltwater and freshwater throughout the world. Tiny (averaging 1/16th of an inch), they go after mosquito larvae, something discovered in the 1980s.
Experiments are growing in which they are used for mosquito control, something noted by the World Health Organization. However, there is concern in going too fast since it involves the introduction of nonnative species.
Cyclopoid copepods at least 1/20th of an inch in length are the most effective of their species at mosquito control.
Scientific classification: Class Maxillopoda
Size: Usually 1/32 of an inch to 3/32 of an inch (1 mm to 2 mm) long
Numbers: When there is food, females produce 50 eggs per day for as many as four weeks.
Hunger: A group of copepods was found to consume 40 sets of mosquito larvae in a day in one study.
How to add them to your garden: Grow them in an aquarium, then transfer them.
“True bugs” is the common name for insects in the suborder Heteroptera, which contains 40,000 aquatic and semi-aquatic insects. The ones that feed on the larval stage of the mosquito life cycle include:
- Backswimmers: Family Notonectidae
- Giant water bugs: Family Belostomatidae
- Riffle bugs: Family Veliidae
- Water boatmen: Family Corixidae
- Water striders: Family Gerridae
- Water measurers: Family Hydrometridae
There have so far been few studies. In Vietnam, water jars were a major source in the spreading of mosquito diseases. Water bugs were introduced, and the problem went away.
Scientific name: Suborder Heteroptera
Size: From 1/25th of an inch up to 3.9 inches
Numbers: A female lays 100 eggs per year.
How to add them to your garden: If you build it (a pond), they will come.
What Are the Mosquito-Borne Diseases?
The following are common mosquito-borne diseases transmitted by mosquito bites in the U.S.:
- West Nile virus: Most cases are not reported, the CDC warns, but it does have reports of 2,500 cases per year.
- Yellow fever: It is turning up in urban areas, a surprise since a major effort was thought to have eradicated it in the 1950s.
- Dengue: Cases are also turning up in the U.S., though few places routinely test for it. It is transmitted by the same species of mosquito as yellow fever.
- Malaria: There are 2,000 cases reported to the CDC every year. In most cases, the people infected had visited other countries, but disturbingly there are cases in which the people not only never left the U.S., but didn’t know people who had.
- Chikungunya: It has been spreading toward the U.S., reaching the Caribbean islands. There were no cases reported in the US before 2006, then 2,800 in 2014, then after that less than 50 cases annually.
- Zika: There was an outbreak of the Zika virus in America of 5,000 cases in 2016, with 5% of them in people who had not traveled. However, there have been only a handful of cases since then, according to the CDC.
Remove any standing water, especially stagnant water. That is what attracts them. Be vigilant in your yard. If your automatic sprinkler leaves water sitting out, adjust the sprinkler. If the pool cover or outdoors furniture allow water to pool on them, snap it tight. Pick up toys the kids left out or unused flower pots and buckets. Every 2-3 days, replace the water in a birdbath.
During the 1920s, bat towers were put up as San Antonio, Texas, dealt with mosquitoes that brought malaria. The bat towers were such a failure, the effort was dropped.
Dragonflies are called “mosquito hawks” for a good reason; they are the best mosquito eaters. Fish are natural mosquito predators that are effective on larvae, but so are dragonflies, and they can get ones that are flying, too.
A Call to Action
If you want to make the effort to control mosquitoes by introducing the creatures that act as predators on them, you have to do your work. If you have a mosquito problem, or just have a lot of mosquitoes, review your options, make a decision, then act on it.
You can introduce these living things as a do-it-yourself project, or you can call in a professional. Contact Pest Gnome to connect you with a pro in your area.