JUNE
1988

 

 

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

6-16-88

FLYING SYRINGES

Mosquitoes have been called living, flying syringes.  A fitting description.

Technically a kind of fly, the mosquito has long been famous for its bite.  The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, a student of insects, concluded that, “Four-winged insects have the sting in the tail, and the two-winged ones have the sting in the head.”  Aristotle was, of course, talking about bees and biting flies, probably mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes need to obtain blood for egg production.  Therefore, only female mosquitoes bite.  The males are nectar feeders.  Because of their need for a blood meal, female mosquitoes include malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever, elephantiasis and encephalitis.

The relationship between mosquitoes and disease transmission has been as important area of study.  Walter Reed, a U.S. army surgeon, gained fame by leading the effort to control the yellow fever mosquito in Panama.  This effort allowed the construction of the Panama Canal.  Yellow fever was one of the reasons the French were unable to complete construction of the canal.

The American poet Longfellow suggested a relationship between mosquitoes and malaria in “Hiawatha.”  And the relationship between swamps and the disease was noted also in the line:

“He, the mightiest of magicians,
Sends the fever from the marshes.”

This was written some 40 years before it had been established scientifically that the mosquito was a vector of malaria.

Mosquito larvae live in stagnant water.  Thus the relationship between swamps and mosquito-borne diseases.  Many common names of mosquitoes, such as tree-hole mosquito and rain-barrel mosquito, suggest the location of their larvae.  One of the most common methods of mosquito control is removing possible larval breeding sites, including the draining of swamps.

Of course, the very best and most modern of mosquito control activities will not be completely successful.  So the next time you are being pursued by a hungry mosquito, watch what you say.  That mosquito is bound to be a lady.

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Olivia Maddox