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Mosquito Mouthparts

August 13, 2013

Spoiler alert – this post is about insects so turn back now if you can’t handle it.


Anyway, I wanted to show you some super icky but REALLY COOL research about mosquitoes. You’d think we’d have figured out how these guys work by now… but apparently we don’t actually know jack when it comes to how they bite. In my mind, I assumed their mouth was basically a hollow tube akin to a syringe that they just stabbed into your flesh.

Thanks Google, that’s totally what I meant.

Well anyway, I am TOTALLY WRONG. Thankfully, Valerie Choumet at Pasteur Institute in Paris is here to set the record straight.

Before I get into the (literally) juicy video footage, I just want to emphasize the importance of mosquito research. Although not all mosquitos are harmful to humans or other mammals, the ones that are can be considered the world’s most dangerous animal. They’re vectors for horrible diseases such as malaria and dengue fever that harm lots of humans around the world. According to the World Health Organization, about 3.3 billion people are at risk for contracting malaria from mosquito bites – that’s HALF the world. That’s why it’s really important to study everything about them.

Now to the main attraction… the videos of mosquitoes biting living flesh in real time. These experiments were done with rats and allowed researchers to actually view the mouthpart of the insect as it searched for a blood vessel to feed from. The most shocking revelation from these videos was that the mouthpiece is very flexible – it bends back and forth at almost 90 degree angles in search of blood. This allows the animal to utilize a single puncture rather than wildly biting all over until it’s lucky enough to find a blood vessel under the surface. It’s also made up of six parts, but the relevant one is a pair of tubes that pump saliva down into the bite and pump blood back up into the belly of the beast.

So take a peek… the brown line is the mouthpart, the transparent circles are the skin cells, and the red lines are the blood vessels. You’ll know when she’s hit the mark in the second video (ps – only the females feed on blood)

WHAMMY! That vessel totally collapses as the mouthpart pierces it. Now, what’s extra cool about this research is how the behavior of malaria-carrying mosquitoes differed from their uncontaminated brethren. They discovered that they would spend more time searching for a blood vessel before giving up, possibly indicating that this parasite is somehow altering the behavior of this organism in a way that is beneficial to its life cycle. Not confirmed obviously, but an interesting hypothesis nonetheless.

So next time you’re trying to sleep and you can hear that faint eeeeeeEEEEEEEEeeeeeee near your head, I hope you think of me and remember exactly what’s about to happen to your flesh.

You. Are. Welcome.


From → Biology

One Comment
  1. William permalink

    That is crazy video! I too had an over simplified idea of how they fed, so it’s really interesting to see the proboscis bending and moving around so much. Do you know what happens to the blood vessel?

    If the parasite was altering the mosquito’s behavior it would be so parallel to the crazy cat lady parasite that you couldn’t help but think they influence more of our lives than we know! (or researchers are paranoid about parasites…great band name btw)

    While it is fascinating (and I’m all for learning everything we can about everything), how do you think this is applicable to disease prevention? Altering the feeding mechanism too much I assume would just kill them, so the mutation wouldn’t be passed on. I could see it being a life saver at the doctor’s when you need blood drawn and the nurse sucks. But that’s part of the beauty of science, you never know until you look & you never know what someone else will see in you research.

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