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Perhaps nothing can ruin time spent outdoors as quickly and effectively as mosquitoes. The buzz of these insects and their itchy bites can quickly send us running indoors.
In Illinois, mosquito season runs from late spring to early fall. How bad the mosquitoes are largely depends on the weather, with both rainfall and temperature being the determining factors, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
After a period of heavy rainfall, we see more floodwater mosquitoes. These bugs can be a nuisance, but they do not typically carry diseases. During hot, dry spells, the mosquitoes that carry the West Nile and Zika viruses as well as other illnesses breed in stagnant water, the health department reports.
Despite our annoyance with mosquitoes, they are an important part of the ecosystem, mostly as a food source for many other animals. Bats, birds, frogs and even larger insects like dragonflies eat mosquitoes, sometimes hundreds or even thousands a day, National Geographic reports.
It can be hard to appreciate this role they play in the ecosystem when we are busy itching and scratching all of our mosquito bites. So to further your appreciation of these little buggers, here's a few facts you might not know.
Only female mosquitoes bite
Every pesky mosquito bite you’ve ever had is the work of a female, according to the Smithsonian. Male mosquitoes feed only on nectar from plants, but the females require a blood meal before they can lay eggs.
Mosquitoes are the most deadly animals in the world
When we think of deadly animals, we usually think of large, imposing creatures that attack humans who invade their territory – bears, sharks and even lions and other big cats. In reality, though, the mosquito is far more deadly than all of those animals combined. Mosquitoes and other insects kill by transmitting illnesses, known as vector-borne diseases. These illnesses kill more than 700,000 people each year, according to the World Health Organization. Malaria alone kills more than 400,000 people every year. Closer to home, mosquitoes can transmit West Nile virus and other diseases such as encephalitis.
They’re attracted to your breath
Theories abound as to why mosquitoes prefer some people over others. In reality, though, they are able to find us because of the carbon dioxide we exhale with every breath, along with some of the substances found in our sweat. Beer may also attract mosquitoes to people, and pregnant women get bit more than those who aren’t pregnant, according to the Smithsonian. Some research also shows mosquitoes prefer people with type O blood over other blood types. But the reality is all living and breathing humans attract mosquitoes with every exhale.
Blood-sucking insects date back to the dinosaurs
Mosquitoes are far older than modern humans, dating back about 79 million years, according to the Mosquito and Tick Project. Blood-sucking insects similar to mosquitoes go back even further, with fossilized evidence of such insects dating back about 130 million years, Nature World News reports. Today, more than 3,500 species of mosquitoes can be found on all of the continents except Antarctica. Lucky for us, most species don’t feed on humans.
Repellents do help
Many of us have questioned whether mosquito repellents are worth it, because it seems like the bugs are still biting. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does recommend using repellents registered with the Environmental Protection Agency to prevent mosquito bites, but only certain ingredients are proven to be effective. DEET is the most common active ingredient in bug spray, but other ingredients to look for in an effective repellent are oil of lemon eucalyptus; picaridin; para-menthane-3,8-diol, or PMD; IR3535; and 2-undecanone, the CDC reports.
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