By the total number of people killed every year, the mosquito is the deadliest animal on the planet. There are about 3,500 mosquito species known to us. However, only a few of them feed on human blood and transmit life-threatening diseases.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a total of 216 million cases of malaria were reported worldwide in 2016. About half-a-million people died of this disease in the same year.
Lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis), on the other hand, affected about 38.5 million people in 2015. Other potentially fatal mosquito-borne diseases are dengue, yellow fever, and West Nile fever.
During rainy seasons, mosquitoes outnumber almost every other animal species on Earth, except ants and termites. Despite its impact on human society, mosquitoes do not get enough attention as other predatory animal species, such as sharks.
So today, we have compiled a list of well-studied mosquito species that you should be aware of.
10. Aedes aegypti
Image Courtesy: Muhammad Mahdi Karim
Common Name: Yellow fever mosquito
The yellow fever mosquito — scientifically known as Aedes aegypti, is found in every continent of the world except Antarctica. The mosquito belongs to the genus Aedes and is recognized by distinctive white stripes on its legs and upper body. An adult yellow fever mosquito has a lifespan of a maximum of four weeks. However, their eggs remain viable for a relatively long time in dry conditions.
Female Aedes aegypti, which feeds on human blood to nurture its eggs, carry several infectious diseases such as chikungunya, dengue, and Zika fever. This species is the primary disease vector for life-threatening yellow fever in humans.
Research has shown that these mosquitoes find a host by trailing very fine chemical compounds emitted by mammals such as ammonia, lactic acid, and octenol.
According to a new study conducted on African populations of Aedes aegypti, ancient mosquitoes (specifically in arid regions) have evolved to bite humans since we live near water sources.
9. Aedes albopictus
Female Asian tiger mosquito | Image Courtesy: CDC
Common Name: Asian tiger mosquito
Aedes albopictus or Asian tiger mosquito is a significant member of the Aedes genus. Like yellow fever mosquito, tiger mosquito features white stripes on its legs and other body parts.
This species is known to transmit viral pathogens associated with chikungunya, dengue, yellow fever, and Usutu virus. It was responsible for the first-ever reported chikungunya outbreak in Europe.
The Asian tiger mosquito is understood to be one of the most invasive species on Earth. Native to the warm and humid climate of tropical southeast Asia, tiger mosquitoes entered Europe sometime in the mid-1970s. In the United States, they were discovered in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1983.
The species is seemingly adapting to the temperate climate quite well. They are also known to survive through below-freezing temperatures and snowfall.
8. Aedes japonicus
Aedes japonicus mosquito | Image Courtesy: CDC
Unlike yellow fever and Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes japonicus rarely feed on humans and is not known to transmit any viral disease. However, recent experimental research has shown this species is capable of transmitting the West Nile virus.
Aedes japonicus was first observed on the Japanese island of Honshu in 1901. But by the course of the 20th century, the species reached other parts of Asia, western Europe, and Central America. Due to its use of diverse habitats and relatively high cold tolerance, Aedes japonicus is expected to spread in much of Europe and North America rapidly.
7. Aedes vexans
Aedes vexans mosquito | Image Courtesy: inaturalist.ca
Common Name: Inland floodwater mosquito
Aedes vexans is a type of mosquito usually found in pools and roadside trenches and typically feed on human blood. This mosquito species is known to transmit Bunyavirales, an order (taxonomic rank) of RNA virus that affects the human population in Africa, Asia, and Europe.
Furthermore, due to its aggressive biting behavior against humans and seasonal abundance, A. vexans have a higher transmissions rate of Zika virus outside the tropics.
6. Anopheles albimanus
Female Anopheles albimanus mosquito | Image Courtesy: CDC’s PHIL
Anopheles albimanus is a mosquito species native to Central America, the Caribbean, and parts of South America. A. albimanus is one of the few known mosquito species that exhibits polymorphism. Studies have found differences between species population in the Caribbeans and Central America.
The mosquito species can thrive in a wide variety of habitats with varied temperatures and precipitation. It also has a wide geographic dispersion range. Female Anopheles albimanus can travel more than 30 km from their habitat while being able to reach 1000 meters above the sea level.
This species is a primary transmitter of malarial parasites.
5. Anopheles gambiae
Image Courtesy: CDC/PHIL
About eight identical species of mosquitoes in the genus Anopheles are collectively known as Anopheles gambiae complex. While all members of this species complex are physically similar, they do have different behavioral characteristics.
Several species of the Anopheles gambiae complex are known to carry Plasmodium falciparum, one of the deadliest malaria parasite. Anopheles arabiensis (one of the eight species) caused the malaria epidemic of 1938/39 in northeastern Brazil.
4. Psorophora ferox
Female Psorophora Ferox | Image Courtesy: Katja Schulz
Psorophora ferox is one of the thirteen mosquito species of the genus Psorophora which are native to most of the Americas. The mosquito species thrive in temporary pools filled with rainwater in low-density forest areas.
P. ferox is associated with diseases such as West Nile Virus and Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus though it is not a significant vector. They are also known to carry larvae of human botfly (Dermatobia hominis).
3. Psorophora ciliata
Female psorophora ciliata
Psorophora ciliata, sometimes referred to as “gallinipper” is a large but harmless mosquito species found mostly in the Eastern United States. In South America, this species has established itself in tropical and temperate regions.
Though not associated with any vector-borne disease, P. ciliata is an aggressive mosquito species, and their bites are often painful. Large mammals and other mosquito species are its preferred feeding source.
P. ciliata can be identified by its relatively large stature and hairy legs.
Toxorhynchites speciosus | Wikimedia Commons
Common Name: Mosquito eater, elephant mosquito,
Genus Toxorhynchites include more than ninety mosquitoes species that do not feed on human blood. The genus also features some of the largest mosquito species measuring about 0.71 inches in length.
Rather than human blood, Toxorhynchites mosquitoes feed on mosquito larvae. Toxorhynchites splendens, a native species of Australia, is known to prey on yellow fever mosquito larvae near its natural habitat. The species has been effective in controlling populations of other blood-sucking mosquito species.
Female Culex pilosus | Image Courtesy: Michelle Cutwa-Francis
Culex is perhaps one of the most dangerous mosquito genus known to humans. Many species of the Culex genus, function as a major vector for diseases such as West Nile fever, Japanese encephalitis, Western/Eastern equine encephalitis, and filariasis. Researches are currently underway to determine Culex mosquitoes’ ability to transmit the Zika virus.
Mosquito species belonging to the Culex genus are pretty common in tropical as well as temperate regions of the world. They are often found in large and populous cities.