They are considered both. A mosquito is under the class Insecta, which is the largest class under phylum Arthropoda. This means that this organism has an exoskeleton, a slim segmented body, as well as a pair of appendages. Mosquitoes also have no capacity to produce food on their own. These characteristics make this notoriously dangerous and pesky insect an animal, too.
What Makes a Mosquito an Insect?
Mosquitoes are under the Diptera or the fly order of the Insecta class. The adult mosquitoes normally have a slim, elongated body covered with scales. They also have long, very thin-looking legs as well as pointed, piercing mouthparts. They also have a feathery antenna that can be used to determine their sex. The males usually have bushier antennae compared to the female mosquitoes.
Male mosquitoes thrive by eating nectar as well as other plant juices. On the other hand, most female mosquitoes need protein from human or animal blood to help them mature their eggs.
There are actually more insect species compared to all the other animals in the kingdom. Mosquitoes alone have over 3,000 species all over the world. But to determine if an organism is an insect, it should have:
- 3 major body parts
- 3 distinct pairs of legs
- 2 recognizable pairs of wings
- A set of compound eyes,
- Complete mouthparts,
- A visible pair of antennae,
- Can complete a full metamorphosis,
All these characteristics are present in a mosquito.
Why Is There Confusion in Classifying Mosquitoes?
Perhaps the reason why people are confused about classifying mosquitoes as animals and as insects is because of the interchangeable terms that are used to describe them. Most of the time, people refer to animals as mammals. They would also think that only those with backbones can be considered as animals.
However, insects are animals too. They may not have mammary glands and chordates just like the bigger animals, but having an exoskeleton and hexapods (six legs) also make them animals. In fact, insects can be considered as the most diverse type of animal.
Is a Mosquito a Parasite?
Based on the definition released by the CDC, parasites are organisms that either live on or in a bigger organism. The host organism also serves as the parasite’s source of food without killing it. There are three major types of parasites existing in the world. These include protozoa, helminths, and ectoparasites.
Among the three, mosquitoes fit the description that belongs to the ectoparasite class, but the CDC uses this classification to talk about the other blood-sucking arthropods like lice, mites, fleas, and ticks. That is why calling a mosquito a parasite remains under contention. But just like these other insects, mosquitoes can be considered as transmitters of several pathogens that can cause various diseases.
Mosquitoes and Malaria
Mosquitoes are also known as a host of another dangerous single-celled parasite called Plasmodium. It causes malaria, one of the most fatal diseases in the world that affects over 200 million people and kills a significant percentage of them annually. Once it enters the body of a female Anopheles mosquito, it can infect the blood of anyone who the mosquito bites.
Aside from turning them as a carrier of a deadly disease, the malaria parasite inside the mosquitoes could possibly affect its behavior. A recent study that was published by Science explained how the malaria parasite found in human blood attracts mosquitoes and make the insect a transmitter of the dreaded illness.
A molecular biologist from Stockholm University, Ingrid Faye, wanted to know more about a specific molecule called the HMBPP that was produced by malaria parasites. She wanted to look into the nitty-gritty of how the molecule affects the immune system of a mosquito, particularly the Anopheles gambiae species.
The researcher was surprised to see the major difference between the insect’s reaction to healthy human blood and those that are either infected with malaria parasite or tainted with HMBPP. Based on the result of the study, the majority of the mosquitoes chose to suck on the infected blood instead of the healthy one.
To understand why this happened, Faye and her team gathered the volatile molecules that are released into the air above the malaria parasite or HMBPP-mixed red blood cells. These volatile molecules are known for their capacity to pass through a person’s skin. One of the molecules that were used is carbon dioxide, known for attracting mosquitoes. As expected, the air above the blood has the same effect on mosquitoes as the actual blood. This proved that malaria parasites could affect the behavior of mosquitoes.
Mosquito and Human Blood
There are also several factors why some people get more mosquito bites compared to others. One of them is a person’s blood type. According to a study that took place in a controlled setting, these insects tend to land more on people with Type O blood compared to those with Type A. On the other hand, those with Type B blood usually end in the middle of the spectrum.
The study also found out that mosquitoes are attracted to people who exhale more carbon dioxide. Most of the time, these types of people are bigger compared to others.
The insects are also drawn to the smell of uric acid, lactic acid, ammonia, as well as other chemicals. This means that those who just underwent a strenuous exercise session will most likely get bitten by these small insects. Also, those who just drank a can of beer could possibly attract more mosquitoes. Other people who will attract the pesky flying insects include those who are pregnant and those who love to wear dark-colored hair.
Is a Mosquito a Predator?
Mosquitoes can be considered as the deadliest animal on the planet. Even billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates believes that these can kill more lives in one daythan the number of people killed by sharks in a century. A report from The Guardian estimated that about 2 million people died due to the diseases caused by mosquito bites. However, mosquitoes are not predators.
Generally, mosquito bites are not exactly harmful to humans. It is the fatal diseases that are transmitted by the bites. Some of these included the dreaded Zika virus, Dengue Fever, Yellow Fever, Chikungunya, and Malaria. Those in the U.S. could possibly get affected with the Jamestown Canyon Virus, the La Crosse Encephalitis, or the West Nile Virus. Aside from these diseases, mosquitoes also waste billions of dollars annually due to lost productivity.
But despite all these negative traits of mosquitoes, the insects cannot be considered as predators. Unlike typical predators, mosquitoes do not hunt, kill, or consume other animals. The mosquito can spread a disease once its mouth, also known as the proboscis, prick human or animal skin and suck the blood out.
Mosquitoes are a danger to bigger animals. Dogs and cats, especially those with thinner fur, can get bitten by these insects. They will also experience itching and irritation that most people feel when bitten by mosquitoes. However, they may also get infected by a more severe mosquito-borne disease like heartworm. This is a fatal condition that affects the furry animal’s heart and lungs.
Mosquitoes may also bite birds if humans are not present. This can be dangerous because of the risk of spreading disease across species. It will happen once a mosquito bites an infected bird, and then go on to bite a human since certain avian pathogens are also harmful to people. Other animals that mosquitoes bite include mammals like squirrels and raccoons, reptiles like snakes, amphibians, and even fish.
How to Prevent Mosquito Bites?
One of the best ways to avoid these pesky pests is to keep the house and its surroundings clean. Also remove any standing water near the home to eradicate the insect’s breeding grounds. These are normally found in unclean water installations all over the property.
If your interested in reading about the types of clothing that mosquitoes can bite through check out our article on that here.
The pests can also breed indoors, especially if there are watered vases inside the house. These should be checked regularly to see if there are maggots living in the water.
It is also recommended to apply mosquito repellents when going outdoors, if you are heading to a mosquito-infested area. Wearing light-colored clothes will also help in avoiding mosquito bites because these insects only recognize dark colors. If mosquitoes are common in your area bat houses can be a solution as bats will naturally prey on mosquitoes. Another option for areas with high mosquito populations is a misting system.
Knowing if a mosquito is an insect or animal is a good piece of information to have, but the biggest takeaway here is to know how dangerous mosquitoes here on fellow insects, animals, and humans. Regardless if a mosquito is an insect, animal, or both, you have to take extra steps and safety measures to avoid being bitten and getting sick. Exterminator’s do spray for mosquitoes and if you suspect a serious mosquito problem in your area we always recommend getting in contact with a professional.