Why mosquitoes bite and what to think about when repelling them
When summer arrives, the great outdoors beckon to many in the Alaskan interior -- sports, swimming, eating at many of the outdoor establishments whose doors are closed during the wintertime, and even just hanging out on the front lawn.
It also beckons mosquitoes.
Professor Derek Sikes, Curator of Insects at the University of Alaska Museum of the North and Professor of Entomology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks College of Natural Science and Mathematics discusses why mosquitoes
be found here. He says that perhaps it has to do with something called the species richness latitudinal gradient, which means that at the higher latitudes, there are fewer species.
“When you have fewer species there’s less competition for resources and each individual species thus has potentially more resources,” Sikes says. “It’s a very complicated subject, because resources are also declining as you go further north, so it’s not well understood.”
Additionally, Alaska’s boreal forests and permafrost are a perfect environment for mosquitos, who spawn in wet environments.
So why mosquitoes are so bloodthirsty?
“They drain blood to get a protein meal for their eggs, so it’s just the females who drink blood, the males don’t,” Sikes says. The males get all of their sustenance from flowers, he says, adding that females do as well – for their own nutrition. “The blood meal the female doesn’t really use to provide her energy, she uses that to generate her eggs.”
“They cue into carbon dioxide which all animals exhale, so it’s a great way to find a large animal,” Sikes says. He says that this is how mosquito traps – popularly called mosquito magnets- attract the insects: they emit carbon dioxide.
When it comes to safeguarding oneself against mosquitos, there are a few things to keep in mind.
“There’s a huge market in finding repellants, the military has also been very much involved in that,” Sikes says. He mentions that it is historically quoted that mosquitoes have killed more military members than enemies have.
Caution should be taken when using DEET, one of the more popular choices of repellant, as research has shown that it can melt everyday plastics.