When you spend time outdoors in warm weather, it’s important to think about mosquitoes before you plan activities with family and friends.
Whether you plan to spend your summer on new adventures in nature or just want to sit on your porch and watch the fireflies come out, you can be at risk for mosquitoes anytime you are outside. Paying attention to mosquitoes can help prevent risks associated with bites.
This article explains the mosquito life cycle and gives some tips to protect yourself and your family during mosquito season.
Mosquito Life Cycle
Not only are they annoying but mosquitoes can carry disease that can make you very sick. Understanding the mosquito’s life cycle can help you protect yourself and your family against pesky bites.
The mosquito’s life cycle is in four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. The length of time needed for a mosquito to grow into an adult from an egg varies. Some factors that impact this time are the environment and the species of mosquito.
Typically, the length of time spans between seven and fourteen days. However, some may take as few as four days or as long as a month.
The first phase of the mosquito life cycle is the egg. Eggs are laid by female mosquitoes either one at a time or attached together in groups called rafts. Whether eggs are laid together or one at a time depends on the species. Some species form rafts of up to 200 eggs together.
While most species lay their eggs on the surface of water, where they float, others do not. Some species lay their eggs on the top of damp soil that will flood with water. In either case, water is necessary for the egg’s environment. Most eggs hatch into larvae within 48 hours of being laid.
The eggs hatch into larvae, which live in the water. They are sometimes called “wrigglers” because of the way they look and move in the water. Most larvae come up to the surface of the water to breathe.
Some species attach to plants in the water in order to get oxygen during this phase of life. While in the larva stage, mosquitoes feed on organic matter and microorganisms in the water.
The worm-like larvae shed their skins as they grow larger. This happens several times during this stage of life. Once they have molted and grown the fourth time, they typically reach the pupa stage.
The pupa stage of the mosquito’s life cycle is different from the larva stage. Most notably, it is a non-feeding stage. The pupa will still move around but rests a lot more than it did when it was a larva.
This is similar to the stage of a butterfly’s life cycle when it is resting and growing in its cocoon. The pupa may move to protect itself. But it spends most of its time simply growing.
During this stage, the mosquito is still living in the water. When the pupa has grown into an adult, the skin of the pupa splits and the adult mosquito emerges from it. This is also similar to the butterfly that emerges from the cocoon when it has transformed into an adult butterfly.
When the adult mosquito first emerges from the pupal stage, it typically rests on the surface of the water before flying away. This gives the mosquito’s body a chance to dry and harden, especially its wings. The mosquito does not feed during these first few days.
When the adult mosquitoes begin to fly, they once again begin to feed. Female mosquitoes need blood to produce eggs. They are the mosquitoes that feed on humans and animals.
After a female mosquito feeds on blood, she looks for a water source or damp soil to lay eggs, which begins the life cycle over again.
The life of the adult mosquito differs depending on the species. Some species do not fly long distances. Some mosquito species prefer to bite humans, while others will bite humans or animals.
Typically, mosquitoes will live either inside or outside. It is more important that they live in the correct environment for their biological needs. While male mosquitoes typically live less than a week, female mosquitoes live longer. Some live as long as month or two before dying.
Why are mosquitoes dangerous?
You may think that mosquitoes are only annoying. Usually, that is true. However, sometimes, mosquito bites can be dangerous to people who are bitten.
Usually people associate Lyme disease with tick bites. Ticks can carry Lyme disease, but lice, fleas and mosquitoes do, as well.
Symptoms of Lyme disease include:
- Fever and chills
- Joint and muscle pain
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Neck stiffness
- Pain, numbness, or tingling
- Heart palpitations or heart arrhythmia
- Inflammation in the spinal cord or brain
Usually, the symptoms progress if the Lyme disease is untreated. The most common first sign of Lyme disease is a rash. Sometimes, this rash has the appearance of a bulls-eye.
Once diagnosed, Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics in the early stages. Even with treatment, some people develop chronic Lyme disease. Symptoms are managed but there is no cure.
West Nile virus
West Nile virus is most often associated with mosquitoes and can be very serious if contracted.
Most people do not have symptoms of West Nile virus. However, in some cases, the following symptoms may develop:
- High fever
- Neck stiffness
- Vision loss
- Numbness and muscle weakness
There is no medication that can treat West Nile virus. Typically, patients are given treatment to manage their symptoms. In severe cases, they may be hospitalized to receive treatment, including fluids, nursing care and pain management.
Protecting your home from mosquitoes
The best way to protect against mosquitoes is to change your environment so they cannot survive. Making changes in and around your home will mean you can enjoy your home without the threat of mosquitoes.
Here are some steps you can take to make your home less likely to be a good home for mosquitoes:
- Remove all standing water outside your home. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in and near water. All mosquitoes must have water nearby as they grow from larvae into adults. Removing standing water will keep mosquitoes from laying their eggs near your home. Be sure to check all areas after rainfall.
- Take care of plants and vegetation around your home. Most mosquitoes rest in vegetation when they are not looking for sources of blood or water. By pruning bushes and taking care of your plants, there will be fewer places for mosquitoes to rest near your home.
- Check screens on all of your windows. Screens keep mosquitoes and other pests from getting into your home when your windows are open. Make sure your screens are properly installed and don’t have any tears or holes that would allow access to your home.
- Consider natural repellents to deter mosquitoes. Plants like lemongrass and citronella are natural mosquito repellents. Planting them around your home or having them on patios and porches can protect against mosquitoes. It should be noted that these natural repellants are not guaranteed protection against mosquitoes.
- Keep air moving when you are outside. Using fans to keep the air moving can help protect against mosquitoes, as well. They often cannot fly against the airflow, which keeps them away from you.
Protecting yourself from mosquitoes
In addition to making your environment safe against mosquitoes, there are things you can do to reduce the chances you’ll get bitten if you are in an area where mosquitoes are going to be.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Pay attention to water and vegetation near you, which can be areas where mosquitoes live. If you are going to be in these areas, take extra steps to protect yourself.
- Wear light-colored clothing that covers your skin. Covering your skin with long sleeves and long pants will keep mosquitoes from biting, especially if the fabric is thick enough to keep mosquitoes from biting through your clothing.
- Stay inside when mosquitoes are most active: from early evening until morning. Mosquitoes are not active all day. If you avoid being outside during their active times, they are less likely to bite you.
- Use insect repellant. When you are outside in an area where mosquitoes live, use insect repellant. The repellant will help keep mosquitoes away from your skin so they will not bite you.
Caring for mosquito bites
Even when you do everything you can to protect yourself and your home, mosquito bites can be inevitable. Most of the time, bites are just an irritation. But sometimes, these bites can be serious because mosquitoes carry Lyme disease and West Nile virus, which can be developed if you are bitten by a mosquito.
Caring for your mosquito bite can help keep you healthy as it heals. If you are bitten by a mosquito, there are steps you can take to care for the bite properly.
- Do not scratch the bite. Even if it is difficult to do, try not to scratch any mosquito bite. When you scratch a mosquito bite, you can break the skin and spread bacteria. This can lead to infection.
- Clean the area with water and gentle soap. Keeping the area clean will protect against infection. If you do something to get dirty, you may want to re-wash the area afterward.
- Apply an anti-itch cream or calamine lotion to deter scratching. There are over-the-counter anti-itch creams designed for mosquito bites. This can help keep you from scratching as it heals.
- Take an anti-histamine to protect against scratching. An over-the-counter anti-histamine can also keep you from scratching as the mosquito bite heals.
- Watch for warning signs and call 911 or seek medical attention, if needed. These signs can indicate a severe reaction or infection. Signs include fever, nausea and vomiting, and difficulty breathing. It is unlikely this will happen, but you should seek medical attention immediately if they occur.
Even though mosquitoes can be serious, you don’t have to spend your summer inside. By taking steps to prevent mosquitoes in and around your home and protecting against bites, you can enjoy your summer safely.