Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Elephant Mosquitoes

An Elephant Mosquito nectars on Boneset flowers.

     After yesterdays Facebook video on "wrigglers" as mosquito larvae are called, I thought I would follow up with this impressive mosquito species. Elephant Mosquitoes (Toxorhynchites rutilus) are labelled this way due to their large size for a mosquito. They are imposing looking creatures, big with a very prominent and fierce looking proboscis. One would not want to have one of these feed on you (though they are smaller than Crane Flies that are often confused for gigantic mosquitoes and do not harm us).
     Luckily, these big mosquitoes are not only harmless, but actually beneficial. Not only do they NOT feed on blood, the adults feed mostly on nectar, sap, and perhaps rotting fruits. The huge proboscis helps them access the deep flowers and they are thus minor pollinators (which male mosquitoes of most species are anyways).
     As if that wasn't enough, the young Toxo mosquitoes feed on small aquatic creatures, having a special taste for other mosquito larvae ("wrigglers"). While most female mosquitoes need a blood meal in order to produce their eggs, the Elephant Mosquitoes (or "Mosquito Hawks" as they are sometimes called) get their protein from the mosquito larvae they eat while young. An individual may cannibalize up to 400 other skeeters before reaching adulthood.
     This predatory trait and benefit as pollinators has made them the subject of testing as a biological control for mosquito pest species. Although there have been successes in these attempts (including introducing them into other countries and places such as Hawaii to control disease bearing mosquitoes), they are never as numerous as the smaller pests they eat. They also hatch very quickly and takes a lot of man power to get a population into production, all factors that make this yet an experimental biological control.
     Still, we have them occurring naturally around here, much to our benefit and to some plants. So the next time you see what appears to be an especially large and nasty looking skeeter, take a second look. It could well be a Mosquito Hawk helping to naturally keep the other mosquito numbers in check.

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