Dale Fort Blog Number 15

23 01 2013

 

This Blog looks at what could well be the most dangerous animal in the world:

 

The Mosquitomosquitoe

 

Mosca is the 16th Century Spanish for a fly (from the Latin Musca).  Mosquito is Spanish for little fly.

 

The problem with sharing our accommodation with these animals is that since the beginning of humanity they have been responsible for the deaths of millions and millions of us.  They continue to facilitate the deaths of millions of people every year.

 

Flies can only consume liquid food and both male and female mosquitoes feed on nectar.  Difficulties  arise when the female has to produce eggs.  She needs extra protein for this and it must be in liquid-form.  Her mouth-parts are designed for such occasions and can penetrate the skin of a nearby mammal and suck up high-protein blood from the vessels beneath.

 

The mammal being pierced tends not to notice because the fly injects a mild anaesthetic and an anti-coagulant prior to penetrating deeper.  You only notice you’ve donated some blood by the immune reaction which develops some time afterwards (itching and swelling).  This blood-sucking habit (haemophagy) causes the transmission and spread of many hideous diseases.

 

It is estimated that 70 million people become infected with something as a result of mosquito “bites” (actually “sucks”) every year.  One of the worst examples (for humans) is afforded by the Anopheles mosquito.  This carries the single celled parasite Plasmodium  which is responsible for malaria.  The parasite infests the liver and red blood cells and results at best in multiple bouts of debilitating fever and at worst death.  As with all diseases the old and weak are affected most and in 2007 more than 5 million children were estimated to have been killed by malaria.

 

Yellow fever is also transmitted by mosquitoes as is dengue fever and many other viral diseases.  All in all, it’s a good idea to avoid being pierced.  Having said that, in a temperate climate you are unlikely to get malaria.  Malaria was rife in the Netherlands and around boggy low-lying parts of the UK up until the 19th Century.  The reasons for its decline are not entirely clear but vastly improved sanitation, drainage, sewage treatment and land reclamation are almost certainly important.

 

The larvae are water creatures and develop rapidly in still water (I found huge numbers in a bucket of rainwater earlier this year).  You can keep them away from you by using a suitable net to sleep under and/or  repellents.  Since they are not strong flyers, a punkawallah or electric fan can be enough to deter them.  The more violently inclined may employ a rolled up newspaper or similar weapon.  This approach is undoubtedly effective but you might have to stay up all night despatching them.

 

They definitely attack some people more than others,  seeking out their prey by detecting carbon dioxide in exhaled breath.  I am especially attractive to female mosquitoes and have on occasion been left drained, a mere husk of a man by their attentions.  My wife recumbent beside me is left alone with no bites and all her blood.

Look out for the next blog which will denounce the theory of chromatic adaptation (you wouldn’t want to miss that would you?).

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