Mosquito Information

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Phylum, Arthropoda; Class, Insecta; Order, Diptera

Identifying Features

Appearance (Morphology)

  • Eggs of some mosquitoes float on the water in rafts.
  • Larvae, often called wigglers, have a soft body, a hard head and a breathing tube, or siphon, at the tip of the abdomen.
  • Pupae are shaped like a comma, and are commonly called tumblers.
  • Adults have delicate legs, a long proboscis and one pair of transparent wings.

Adult Males and Females
Female mosquitoes are usually larger than males. Females have fine threadlike antennae with few hairs, whereas males have bushy antennae.

Immatures (different stages)
Mosquitoes are holometabolous insects and therefore grow through an egg, larva, pupa to adult stage. The larvae and pupae are aquatic, the adults are free flying. At 80° F the larva goes through four larval instars in about 4 days before pupating. The pupa takes three days before the adult emerges. Adult females live several weeks if given a source of sugar. Males usually live less than a week.

Natural History

Larvae eat many things. They graze over rocks and plant material removing growing algae and bacteria. They will filter feed from polluted water, but the water in which they live must never be allowed to develop a scum as they must be able to contact the air through the siphon at the end of the abdomen. Both male and female adults feed on nectar. Females also feed on blood which is needed to produce eggs. Some species can produce eggs without a blood meal. Males do not feed on blood.

Larvae and pupae live in water, usually still water. They do not survive well in rushing streams or badly polluted water. Adults hide in vegetation near water or in cool, damp places. Many species fly in search of blood meals in the evening.

Many fish and predatory aquatic insects eat larvae and pupae. Bats, birds and spiders eat flying adults.

Interesting Behaviors
Watching the feeding behavior of larvae is instructive. Larvae are such effective filter feeders that they can clean polluted water. Adult females respond to cues produced by warm-blooded animals.

Impact on the Ecosystem

Mosquito larvae are important food for fish and other predatory aquatic animals. Adult mosquitoes are also important food for birds, bats and other arthropods, including dragonflies and spiders.

Mosquitoes transmit pathogens that cause some of the worst diseases known, including malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever and encephalitis. However, mosquitoes only transmit the pathogens. In most cases, they must feed on someone with the disease to be able to transmit it to another person. Adult mosquitoes reared from larvae collected from ponds seldom carry pathogens. Do not let field caught mosquitoes feed on your hand.

Collecting Live Insects

Where to find
To catch mosquitoes, look in a small pond, a stream, old tires or other areas with standing water. If you have time, place a bucket of water outside containing some leaves or sticks. Check weekly for eggs and larvae. Mosquitoes can be purchased from: Carolina Biological Supply Company. Some states have restrictions on importing different species of mosquitoes and require you to apply for a USDA permit.

How to collect
Use a cup or a fine mesh net, and scoop rapidly into the water. Put the larvae and pupae into a wide mouthed jar or other container for transportation to the classroom.

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Lesson Plans Information Sheets Rearing Sheets Bibliography
Center for Insect Science Education Outreach The University of Arizona
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