What is a Mosquito?

a mosquito sitting on a leaf

Have you ever found yourself swatting away a tiny, buzzing nuisance during a warm summer evening? Chances are, you’ve encountered the ubiquitous mosquito — an insect known for its stealthy bites and constant whining. But what is a mosquito, exactly, and why is it so important to be careful with them? 

In this comprehensive article, we delve into the world of mosquitoes, exploring their various types, the infectious diseases they transmit, effective methods for eradication, preventive measures to ward off bites, their preferred habitats, the factors that attract them, and more so you can protect you and your family.

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Overview: What is a Mosquito?

As members of the Culicidae family and the Diptera order, mosquitoes comprise a vast and diverse group of insects, encompassing approximately 3,700 known species worldwide. These tiny creatures have adapted to various environments, thriving in habitats ranging from tropical rainforests to urban areas. 

While both male and female mosquitoes feed on plant nectar and other sugary substances, the bloodsucking habits of female mosquitoes make them a topic of concern for public health. They can act as vectors for diseases, and their bites cause itching and swelling at the bite site.

How to Identify a Mosquito

graphic showing parts of mosquito

These buzzing pests exhibit distinctive characteristics that aid in their identification. Understanding these traits can help distinguish mosquitoes from other insects and enable better control measures. Here are some key features to identify these pesky insects:

Feeding Behavior: Mosquitoes are notorious for their biting habits, both during the day and at night. Female mosquitoes require blood meals to nourish their eggs, while male mosquitoes feed solely on plant nectar.

Lifespan: Mosquitoes have relatively short lifespans, typically ranging from 2 to 4 weeks, depending on the species and environmental conditions.

Physical characteristics: Mosquitoes have several defining physical characteristics. They have scales on their wing veins, wing margins, and most of their bodies. 

  • Their bodies are generally elongated and slender, varying in length between species. If you have 20/20 vision, you might be able to notice the long proboscis, a slender, elongated mouthpart used for piercing and sucking.
  • Male and female mosquitoes are different. Male mosquitoes have bushy antennae, while female mosquitoes have antennae with fewer and shorter hairs (these are the ones you should worry about the most!).

The Mosquito Life Cycle

graphic showing a mosquito life cycle

Knowing the life cycle of mosquitoes is crucial for effective control and prevention measures. By understanding the different stages of their lifecycle, we can target specific areas and disrupt their reproduction, curbing their population growth. Here are the four stages in a mosquito’s life cycle:

  1. Egg stage: Female mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water, such as ponds, puddles, or containers with stagnant water. The eggs are usually laid in clusters or groups, called “rafts,” which float on the water’s surface.
  1. Larvae stage: Once the eggs hatch, mosquito larvae, also called “wigglers” or “wrigglers,” emerge. Mosquito larvae live in water and spend most of their time near the surface, with most larvae breathing through a specialized tube called a “siphon.”
  1. Pupae stage: After molting several times in the larvae stage, mosquitoes enter the pupae stage. Pupae are often referred to as “tumblers.” Pupae do not feed but remain in the water, moving with a flip of their tails to more protective areas as needed.
  1. Adult stage: Once the transformation is complete, like a metamorphosis, the adult mosquito emerges from the pupal case and floats on the water’s surface until its wings dry and harden.

This entire process, from egg to adult, can take from 4 days to up to a month, depending on the environment’s conditions. It usually lasts two weeks. 

Where Mosquitoes Live

Mosquitoes are very adaptable when it comes to their living environments. While they are commonly associated with outdoor spaces, it’s essential to recognize that mosquitoes can also reside inside our homes.

When indoors, mosquitoes are attracted to dark, humid places, such as:

  • Under sinks
  • Showers
  • Inside closets
  • Under furniture
  • In the laundry room
  • Behind curtains
  • Near plant pots

Different species of mosquitoes also thrive in various outdoor habitats, such as: 

  • Forests
  • Marshes
  • Swamps
  • Wetlands
  • Tall grasses
  • Standing water sources, such as ponds, birdbaths, neglected swimming pools, or water-filled containers

Types of Mosquitoes

a close up photo of culex mosquito
Photo Credit: Ton Rulkens / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

There are various species of mosquitoes in the world, with over 200 types of mosquitoes found in the United States alone. While most mosquito species are harmless to humans, a select few can significantly threaten public health by transmitting diseases. 

Here’s an overview of the most common mosquito types known for disease transmission in the United States:

Culex Mosquitoes

image of a culex mosquito
Culex mosquito
Photo Credit: doug4537 / Canva Pro / License

Culex mosquitoes, including species such as Culex tarsalis and Culex quinquefasciatus, transmit several diseases. These mosquitoes bite at night. While they prefer avian hosts, Culex mosquitoes can bite humans, especially when alternative hosts are less available.

Physical characteristics: Brown in color, rounded abdomen, and light-colored band around their proboscis

Diseases transmitted: West Nile virus, St. Louis encephalitis, California encephalitis, Western equine encephalitis

Distribution: All parts of the US, especially California 

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Anopheles Mosquitoes

mosquito sitting on a skin
Anopheles mosquito
Photo Credit: Henrik_L / Canva Pro / License

Approximately 20 species of Anopheles mosquitoes are found in the United States, including the Anopheles freeborni and Anopheles quadrimaculatus. These mosquitoes are known to bite both indoors and outdoors, typically between dusk and dawn. They have a preference for biting humans and other mammals.

Physical characteristics: Dark to light brown in color; mouthpart palps the same length as the proboscis; resting position in which the proboscis, head, and body are held on a straight line

Diseases transmitted: Malaria

Distribution: Most of the continental U.S.

Aedes Mosquitoes

picture of a mosquito sitting on a skin
Aedes aegypti
Photo Credit: PongMoji / Canva Pro / License

One of the most significant mosquito species in terms of disease transmission is the Aedes mosquito. Among the Aedes species, the Aedes aegypti stands out. This mosquito species is responsible for spreading several diseases that can have severe health implications for humans. Unlike other mosquitoes, they prefer biting during the day.

Physical characteristics: Dark bodies and white stripes on their legs and torso

Diseases transmitted: Zika, Chikungunya, yellow fever, dengue

Distribution: East Coast, Midwest, Pacific Northwest, and southern regions of the United States

Mosquito-Borne Diseases

Mosquitoes are often viewed as nothing more than pesky, uninvited guests. However, although most mosquitoes are mere nuisances, some can serve as tiny, airborne delivery systems for severe diseases. But how does this all happen?

The mosquito simply feeds on the blood of an infected person or animal. During this process, it unknowingly picks up pathogens from the infected blood. Then, when it moves on to bite and feed on another person or animal, it transmits the disease to them, thus creating a new host.

Here are the most common mosquito-borne diseases in the U.S.:

West Nile Virus

West Nile virus is the most common virus spread by mosquitoes in the US. It is transmitted through Culex mosquitoes. Most people do not develop any symptoms, but about 1 in 5 people will have symptoms like headaches, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, or diarrhea. About 1 in 150 people will develop severe illnesses, such as encephalitis or meningitis.


Malaria is a disease caused by a parasite known as Plasmodium, which is transmitted through the bites of infected Anopheles mosquitoes. Symptoms include fever, headache, and chills, but if left untreated, it can lead to severe illness and even death. There are about 2,000 cases of malaria each year in the U.S.


Chikungunya is a mainly tropical or sub-tropical disease spread to humans by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. No U.S. states have had locally acquired cases reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) since 2016. However, there have been cases in people who have traveled to or from areas where the virus is common. The most common symptoms include fever and joint pain.


Dengue is also spread through the bite of infected Aedes mosquitoes. There have been dengue outbreaks in the continental U.S., but it is more common in the territories of American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Symptoms can be mild or severe, including fever, rash, nausea, vomiting, and eye, muscle, bone or joint pain.

Dog Heartworm

Dog heartworm is a parasitic disease that can be spread through the bite of Aedes, Anopheles, and Mansonia mosquitoes. The heartworm larvae mature into adults inside a dog’s heart, where they reproduce. This can cause heart failure, lung disease, and other organ damage. Since our furry friend can’t tell us what’s wrong, the FDA recommends annual testing.

What Attracts Mosquitoes

Mosquitoes are notorious for relentlessly pursuing human blood, but what attracts mosquitoes to us?

  1. Carbon dioxide: Mosquitoes have a remarkable ability to detect carbon dioxide (CO2). When we exhale, we release carbon dioxide into the surrounding air, creating a trail that mosquitoes can follow to locate us.
  1. Skin odor: Mosquitoes have specialized receptors that allow them to detect various chemical compounds present in our skin, like lactic acid, ammonia, and uric acid.
  1. Body heat: Mosquitoes possess heat-sensing receptors that help them locate warm-blooded hosts (in this case, us).

While it’s impossible to eliminate our attractiveness to mosquitoes completely, we can take measures to reduce their presence and bites, which we will discuss in the following sessions.

How to How to Prevent Mosquito Bites 

Looking to prevent mosquito bites this summer? Here are some effective strategies to protect yourself and your family from these pesky insects, especially during the mosquito season (late spring to early fall):

  1. Use insect repellent: Apply repellents with DEET, picaridin, IR3535, or oil of lemon eucalyptus on exposed skin and clothing. Always follow the label’s instructions.
  1. Dress appropriately: Dress in loose clothing that covers your arms and legs. This can help prevent mosquitoes from reaching your skin since they can bite through tight clothing (like leggings).
  1. Use mosquito netting for strollers: Mosquito netting can be a practical and effective way to protect infants in strollers, carriers, or even cribs from mosquito bites.
  1. Treat clothing and gear with permethrin: You can use products with 0.5% permethrin to treat items such as boots, pants, socks, and tents. Remember, it should not be applied directly on skin.
  1. Install screens on windows and doors: This helps to keep mosquitoes out of your house. Ensure that the screens are free from holes and fit tightly to the edges of the doors and windows.
  1. Use air conditioning: When possible, stay in air-conditioned areas. Mosquitoes tend to thrive in warm, humid environments, and air conditioning can be a good way to deter them.

By adopting these preventative measures, you can reduce the risk of mosquito bites and related diseases for yourself and your family, providing you with a more comfortable and safer environment.

How to Get Rid of Mosquitoes

Controlling mosquito populations around your home and property is crucial for getting rid of mosquitoes and reducing the risk of mosquito-borne diseases.

Remove Standing Water

One of the best ways to eliminate mosquitoes is by targeting their breeding sites. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water, so eliminating these water sources can significantly reduce their numbers. Here are some strategies: 

  • Regularly check both indoors and outdoors for any sources of standing water. This includes flowerpots, gutters, buckets, pool covers, pet water dishes, discarded tires, and birdbaths.
  • Empty these items once a week, and scrub them.
  • Get rid of any items that hold water in your yard, or turn them over.
  • Cover water storage containers like buckets, cisterns, or rain barrels with lids or wire meshes with small holes.

Use Larvicides

In some cases, you might have large bodies of water on your property that can’t be covered or dumped out. These can become major breeding sites for mosquitoes. One effective strategy for controlling mosquito populations in these circumstances is using larvicides.

Larvicides will kill the larval population and mosquitoes in the pupal stage that live in water before they can grow into biting, disease-spreading adults. While these products are effective, they should be used responsibly and according to the manufacturer’s instructions to avoid potential environmental side effects. 

Warning: Do not use larvicides on water that will be used for drinking.

Indoor Mosquito Control

If you’re experiencing mosquito issues inside your home, you can use indoor insect foggers or insect sprays for adult mosquitoes. These can be particularly effective in dark, humid places where mosquitoes usually rest, like under furniture, closets, or laundry areas. 

Tip: Always follow the instructions on the label for safe and effective use.

FAQ About Mosquitoes

Why do Mosquitoes Exist?

Just like most beings in nature, mosquitoes play an important role in the ecosystem and food chain. Mosquitoes serve as pollinators, helping plants reproduce as they move from flower to flower. They also serve as a vital food source for other animals like dragonflies, turtles, bats, and birds. Mosquito larvae in water bodies provide food for fish and aquatic organisms.

While mosquitoes may annoy us, it’s important to understand their place in the natural world and appreciate the interconnectedness of all living organisms, including mosquitoes.

How do Mosquitoes See You?

Mosquitoes have two compound eyes that help them see the world, but what really allows them to sense us are the receptors in their antennae. These receptors help them detect important cues like carbon dioxide and the odor from our skin. 

That’s why they can find us even in the dark! When a mosquito gets within about four feet of us, it can also sense our body heat, which further guides it to a potential meal.

Is it Good to Scratch Mosquito Bites?

While scratching a mosquito bite might feel satisfying, it’s important to resist the urge. Scratching can break the skin and introduce bacteria, leading to infection and slowing down the healing process. Instead, try using cold compresses or anti-itch creams to soothe the itchiness.

Call for a Professional

Can’t stand the buzzing any longer? Pest Gnome connects you to the best pest control experts in your area. Give them a buzz instead. They’ll evaluate and treat your property for adult and larval populations, helping to restore harmony and safety in your lawn this mosquito season.

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Main Image Credit: Katja Schulz / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Maria Isabela Reis

Maria Isabela Reis is a writer, Ph.D. candidate, and plant enthusiast from an area where mosquitoes are as relentless in their pursuit of blood as she is in her quest for knowledge. When she’s not swatting away these buzzing annoyances, she’s playing with her dogs and savoring a cup of tea.