Last night my son's team played an "away" baseball game at a beautiful spot in South Omaha, just over a berm from the swollen Missouri river. Unfortunately, we forgot our insect repellent and I suffered 15 unprotected minutes in a wooded area. Now, those skeeters get a whiff of me, and one thing fills their little mosquito neurons: BUFFET!!!!! A cloud of the girls surrounded me, much like Pigpen of Peanuts fame. We finally acquired some DEET, and I sprayed my body. The girls moved up to my head, and I ended up with "Eau de Deep Woods Off" all over my hair as well as my skin.
So why do mosquitoes bite? Because love is in the air.
Both male and female skeeters can live on nectar from plants (more on mosquitoes here); however, the girls need appropriate blood to provide protein and iron for egg development. Mosquitoes tend to be most active at dusk and dawn; many will fly and feed overnight, and most species ride out the daylight in some cool, secluded space. They often tunnel in vegetated areas, and they may awaken and bite if disturbed.
So the sun drops below the horizon, and the guys start clustering like d00ds around a television during a sporting event. They form "clouds" of buzzing critters into which females fly to breed (a regular flying orgy), preferably with an appropriate mammalian source of blood nearby. After feeding, she rests a few days until the eggs can be laid. Then she resumes the cycle.
Given the dependence of their breeding on the blood of mammals (no True Blood here), mosquitoes have to be very good at tracking us down. Turns out these little critters have keen olfactory organs that can find us after exposure to single molecules of odorants. These needles with wings can sense human odors up to 50 meters away. Today SciAm features a cool slide show of a malaria mosquito's smelling and stinging parts.
The researchers hope that their work will lead to new ways to fool the mosquitoes and reduce the illnesses they carry. I just want them to develop something that keeps them away without mucking up my clothes and hair.
We did win the game, and I only had 3 bites despite the delay in repellent application.