Do Mosquitoes Have Teeth?
Although they tend to proliferate in warner climates, only the Antarctic and Iceland are known to be territories with no evidence of mosquitoes. This means most of us have likely encountered a mosquito at some point in our lives, even if only when traveling. If there are mosquitoes, there are usually mosquito bites. Since mosquitoes feed on blood from animals and humans, they extract their food from the skin of their hosts. The red welts we often experience are called mosquito bites. If a mosquito bites, it may lead you to ask the question do mosquitoes have teeth?
At thedailyECO, we not only find out whether mosquitoes have teeth, but we explain mosquito bites in detail. We look at what sort of apparatus they use to extract blood from beneath the skin of their hosts. Specifically, we look at the mouthparts of both adult mosquitoes and mosquito larvae.
Do mosquitoes have teeth or not?
Mosquitoes are flying insects from the family Culicidae in the order Diptera. This is the same order as the group of insects we commonly refer to as flies. One of the distinguishing features of mosquitos is their ability to suck blood from animals. This is thanks to an external appendage which allows them to mechanically break the skin of a host and an internal suction part.
Only female mosquito specimens are hematophagous, i.e. only females feed on blood. The reason is because female mosquitoes require the blood of animals in order to develop their eggs. Unlike females, males feed on sugary substances such as flower nectar or fruit exudates. Females with also feed on these later substances, but males don't drink blood.
Now we know what mosquitos eat, we can concern ourselves with how they eat. Specifically, we want to know whether mosquitoes have teeth? Mosquitoes do not have teeth. Adult mosquitos do not eat solid food. They feed on blood or sugary fluids so they do not need teeth to chew food. We will look more at how adult mosquitoes feed in the sections below.
Although they are not technically teeth, mosquito larvae do have structures on their mouthparts known as pecten. These are a comb-like structure which are located on the eighth segment of the abdomen below a structure known as a siphon. Unlike adult mosquitoes, mosquito larvae are filter feeders and the use the pecten to filter their food. This food consists of microorganisms such as bacteria, algae and plankton.
The morphological differences in the pecten of the larvae allow us to distinguish different species. We look at these species in more detail below.
How many teeth does a mosquito have?
As stated above, neither adult nor larval mosquitos have teeth. Mosquito larvae do have pecten which have a similar function to teeth, but are not the same structure. Insects in the family Culicidae are subdivided into 2 subfamilies, Anophelinae and Culicinae. These subfamilies constitute 41 genera and more than 3,400 individual species. As the diversity of mosquitoes is very large, the number of pecten teeth varies from one species to another.
Here we look at some species individually:
- Culex acharistus larvae usually have 20 to 37 pecten teeth.
- Culex articularis larvae have a greater number of pecten than the previous species, presenting between 37 and 49 in two irregular rows.
- The larval stages of Culex dolosus can have up to 53 pecten.
- In the larvae of Culex corniger there can be 8 to 12 triangular pecten of around 0.048 millimeters in size.
- In the pecten of Culex garciai larvae there are 12 to 16 units and each of these has a long main spine and usually two lateral ones.
- In Culex janitor larvae there are 6 to 8 spines with teeth open to each other.
- Within the genus Aedes, the number of teeth may be greater or less than 20 depending on the species. The Aedes Aegypti pecten is structured with 12 to 16 pecten teeth, which have a main spine accompanied by two or three smaller ones.
Anatomy of a mosquito's mouth
Mosquito mouthparts are slightly altered in male and female specimens. This is because it is only females who feed on blood and need to pierce the skin of their host. However, they have the same basic structure. Insect mouthparts are sometimes known as mandibles, but the mosquito has an additional mouthpart known as a probiscis. This probiscis is specially adapted to have six needle-like parts known as stylets. The stylets which make up the probiscis in mosquitoes are:
- Labrum: this stylet is styliform and is traversed longitudinally by the alimentary canal.
- Mandibles: in mosquitoes there are two jaws that constitute the internal stylets and only those of females are well developed.
- Maxillae: there are two maxillae that constitute the external stylets which have serrated apices.
- Hypopharynx: the hypopharynx constitutes the thinnest stylet of all and the salivary canal passes through it.
- Labium: the labium is not part of the 6 previously mentioned stylets but is the structure that contains them, essentially the sheath of the probiscis.
When the female bites, the stylets penetrate the skin of the host. The exception is the labium which retracts to allow the others to pierce into the skin. Certain species of mosquito inject anticoagulants through a special channel when feeding. In doing so, they can inject previously acquired pathogens. This is the reason some mosquitos are able to transmit diseases such as the zika virus and malaria.
The transmission of these pathogens in biological, requiring a period of replication and propagation in the vector mosquito. It is for this reason that female mosquitoes have acquired such an important place in public health initiatives. They are important transmitters of pathogens that cause human diseases such as malaria, dengue, yellow fever, encephalitis, chikungunya, zika, among others. In turn, due to the type of feeding they can generate stress in cattle, reducing productive activity.
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