What we call a bite is more like a stab and a sip
It’s difficult to read about a mosquito bite and not think of the creature in the sci-fi film Alien. Imagine, a thing so diabolical that it has a mouth mechanism made up of six parts, feeds on blood, is able to inject an anti-coagulant to keep blood flowing, and leaves behind parasites and bacteria that can lead to disease and even death. As bothersome as mosquitos can be, they are also kind of the stuff of nightmares.
A mosquito bite isn’t a bite at all
After landing on a host, the female mosquito prepares to feed by bending back the protective sheath surrounding her proboscis, or mouth. At first glance, the mouth seems like a single tube. In reality, it’s a set of six specialized needles:
- Two needles have tiny saw-like teeth, sharp enough to cut through the host’s skin.
- Two other needles are able to grip and hold apart the host’s tissue so the mosquito can accomplish her feast.
- One needle, armed with receptor cells, probes under the skin, looking for blood vessels based on the chemicals that they naturally exude.
- One needle injects the mosquito’s saliva, which contains an anti-coagulant to keep the blood flowing. While the “bite” is a painful annoyance, it’s this last needle that is the most dangerous. Parasites and bacteria, such as the one responsible for Zika, reside in the mosquito’s saliva.
If all this wasn’t enough, the mosquito can separate water from blood, and then discard the water to make room for more blood.
Scientists discovered what happens beneath the host’s skin
Several years ago, scientists at the Pasteur Institute in Paris filmed what happens beneath the skin in an effort to discover if mosquitos would behave differently when biting a host that had been immunized against their saliva.
While smaller blood vessels of the host appeared to clot despite the mosquito’s saliva, the insect lingered longer, probing for larger blood vessels.
It was at this moment that scientists witnessed, in real time, the flexibility of the mosquito’s mouth as it curved and bent (even at right angles) to find a blood source. Scientists theorized that this ability means the mosquito does not have to withdraw its mouth apparatus to re-bite, but could stay in place and feed.
In addition, they also witnessed mosquitos sucking so hard that blood vessels would start to collapse and rupture, creating pools of blood in surrounding spaces. Mosquitos, never ones to pass up a fresh supply of blood, would sometimes feed a second time from this pool.
Bite or stab, no one wants mosquitos
After countless itchy bites and Zika fears, it really doesn’t matter if a mosquito meal is called a bite or stab. All that matters is that you, your family, and your pets should be able to enjoy your property without fear and concern.