Humans despise mosquitoes with a passion, and no wonder! With their sharp sting and telltale whine, mosquitoes are the scourge of the summer months. They constantly disrupt any activity from cookouts to simple day-to-day tasks. Just how many mosquitoes are in the world anyway? Are they deadly? And why are there so many?
Find out the answers to these questions and more as we delve into the blood-sucking world of the mosquito!
How Many Mosquitoes Are in the World?
As many as 110 trillion mosquitoes exist in the world today. This works out to almost 16,000 mosquitoes per human! This estimate comes from historian Timothy C. Winegard, author of The Mosquito: A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator.
The vast horde of mosquitoes breaks down into approximately 3,500 species spread across the globe. 3 of these species are responsible for spreading infectious diseases. Although mosquitoes vary somewhat in appearance, they tend to be between 0.125 and 0.75 inches long. They live a brief 2 weeks to 6 months, and much of this time is spent reproducing.
Which Mosquitoes Bite Humans?
Did you know that only female mosquitoes suck blood? That’s right, males don’t bite people at all. For that reason, they also don’t transmit disease. Females, on the other hand, need the protein found in blood to grow their eggs. This compels them to find consistent sources of blood.
The 3 species of mosquitoes primarily responsible for disease transmission are Aedes, Anopheles, and Culex. Most other species do not bite humans.
The World’s Deadliest Predator
Mosquitoes are the most dangerous animal on the planet. Historians estimate that 108 billion people have lived on earth. Estimates also suggest that mosquitoes have killed 52 billion of those humans. That’s almost half of all the humans who ever lived. Unfortunately, most of them were children. This also disproportionately affects people in Africa, as mosquitoes thrive on this continent.
These numbers might shock some people, as mosquitoes are tiny predators and their sting itself isn’t dangerous. So how exactly do they kill so many people?
Infectious Diseases Spread by Mosquitoes
The answer is disease. Mosquitoes are notorious carriers and transmitters of several deadly diseases, including:
This is spread by infected Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. Mild symptoms include fever, headache, nausea, and vomiting. In its severe form, this virus can affect the heart, liver, and kidneys and cause internal bleeding. Death is a common outcome.
West Nile Virus
This is spread by infected Culex mosquitoes. Mild symptoms include fever and headache. In its severe form, this virus can cause deadly inflammation of the spinal cord and brain.
This is spread by infected Aedes aegypti or Aedes albopictus mosquitoes. Mild symptoms include rashes and flu-like symptoms. In its severe form, this virus can lead to dengue hemorrhagic fever and dengue shock syndrome, both potentially deadly.
This is spread by infected Anopheles mosquitoes. Symptoms include fever, headache, chills, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle or joint pain, abdominal pain, fatigue, cough, and rapid breathing and heart rate. If these symptoms become severe, they may lead to death.
This is spread by infected Aedes aegypti or Aedes albopictus mosquitoes. Mild symptoms include rashes, fever, and muscle pain. Occasionally this virus may cause problems with the brain or nervous system, like Guillain-Barre Syndrome. Pregnant women who contract this disease are at increased risk for miscarriage. Their babies may also be born with birth defects.
The Worst Places in the World for Mosquitoes
Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand have the highest number of mosquito species in the world. In terms of endemic species, the worst countries are Brazil, Indonesia, Australia, and the Philippines.
When it comes to diseases, however, the hardest-hit areas are Africa, Asia, and South America. Here, mosquito-borne viruses kill hundreds of thousands of people every year.
As for habitat, mosquitoes love water, especially standing water where they can safely lay their eggs. They also like marshes, grasslands, forest, or urban environments. Warm, tropical regions close to the equator are particularly suitable.
The 2 Places in the World with No Mosquitoes
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Antarctica is the one continent on earth with zero mosquitoes. The environment is simply too cold. Additionally, there are few people or plants to feed on, making it unsuitable as a hunting ground.
However, there is one other place in the world with no mosquitoes. Iceland lays claim to this enviable reputation. The reason for this has baffled scientists and environmentalists. Some suggest that the chemical composition of Iceland’s soil doesn’t agree with mosquitoes. Others suggest that the frequent freeze-and-thaw cycles in Iceland are unsuitable for their young.
Whatever the reason, if you want to escape mosquitoes without going all the way to the South Pole, Iceland may be your best bet.
Mosquito Diet and Predators
Female mosquitoes drink blood to nurture their eggs. However, this isn’t a mosquito’s only source of sustenance. Nectar, honeydew, and plant juices are all part of both a male and female’s diet.
Thankfully, mosquitoes also have natural predators. Other insects may eat them as well as birds, fish, frogs, turtles, and bats. The dragonfly does humans a great service by feeding on mosquito eggs and larvae.
Mosquito Reproduction and Lifecycle
Because mosquitoes live such short lives, they must breed as quickly and often as possible to maintain their species. Female mosquitoes usually lay 100-200 eggs every three days. They do this up to 3 times before dying. The eggs hatch into larvae, which develop into pupae and then into adult mosquitoes.
Should We Eradicate Mosquitoes?
Do mosquitoes serve any purpose, or should we get rid of them? This is an ongoing debate without a definitive answer. Some warn that the mass genocide of mosquitoes would cause the severe disruption of ecosystems. Others argue that mosquitoes are not necessary links in the food chain. This side of the debate insists that their places would quickly be filled by other predators and prey. Just as importantly, with humanity’s number one killer extinct, people in the hardest-hit areas of the world would have a chance to redefine their economies and healthcare systems for the better.
It’s certainly tempting to try eliminating mosquitoes from the face of the earth. However, more studies would need to be conducted before attempting this. For a small-scale solution, try sealing cracks around doors and windows in your house to prevent them from coming in. Outside, bug sprays, fans, and running water in landscape features may help to keep them away.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Digital Images Studio/Shutterstock.com
Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.