Why mosquitoes are considered the world's deadliest animal
By Ashley Williams, AccuWeather staff writer
The bloodthirsty creature arguably considered to be the deadliest animal on Earth might not be what you’d expect.
A blog from philanthropist Bill Gates noted mosquitoes as the animal capable of taking the most lives, killing more people in one day than sharks do in a century.
What the pesky flies lack in size has more than made up for in the number of potentially fatal diseases they’re able to carry and spread rapidly.
Mosquitoes have been known to disseminate diseases and viruses including Zika, dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Malaria alone killed more than 438,000 people in 2015 and 445,000 in 2016, the WHO reported.
Mosquito-borne diseases kill nearly 2.7 million people annually, NASA reported. The dangerous arthropods not only threaten half of the world population, but they also cause billions of dollars in lost productivity each year, according to Gates Notes.
“One of the reasons mosquitoes are the most deadly is that they're able to adapt easily to new environments,” said Burns Blackwell, president and chief executive officer of Terminix-Triad.
Some mosquitoes that feed on human blood have adapted well to urban environments and are able to breed and reproduce in small drops of water, according to Blackwell. They can reproduce quickly; one female mosquito can produce between 50 to 500 eggs in her first brood, according to Terminix.
“The spread of West Nile virus in the United States, which [comes from] the Culex mosquito, drew a lot of attention to the threat of vector-borne diseases outside of their regular zone,” he said. “Global warming is expected to widen the zone that mosquitoes thrive in."
A mosquito can transmit a disease with a prick of its proboscis, or mouth, which is made up of six needlelike stylets that pierce the skin, allowing them to suck a human’s blood.
“Since mosquito-borne diseases are carried by a variety of mosquito genera which all live in different habitats and have different behaviors, it simply is hard to avoid getting bitten,” said Karen Thompson, main editor of InsectCop.net.
“This makes it more likely that you will contract a disease if you live in or visit a country where there are a lot of disease-carrying mosquitoes,” Thompson said.
However, not all of the more than 3,500 existing mosquito species pose a threat to humans, according to Blackwell, who noted that Aedes aegypti, Anopheles and Culex mosquitoes are three of about 100 species that feed on human blood.
Mosquitoes also pose a deadlier threat to a larger number of animals, Blackwell said. “If they feed on infected birds, they can spread avian pathogens to humans or other mammals,” he said. “They'll also bite into amphibians, reptiles, squirrels, rabbits and other small mammals."
The fact that several species have developed resistance to certain insecticides or adapted their feeding habits to survive against control methods also contributes to the threat mosquitoes pose.
“They're wired to find safe places to lay eggs, so they might lay them in a spot that isn't wet yet, but will be when the weather changes,” Blackwell said.
“Bed nets, which have made a big dent in malaria deaths by preventing Anopheles mosquitoes that feed at night, aren't as effective against mosquitoes that have adapted to feed earlier in the day,” he added.
Using an Environmental Protection Agency-registered insect repellent, covering up while outdoors and keeping mosquitoes outside by using window or door screens are ways to prevent mosquito bites, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For more safety and preparedness tips, visit AccuWeather.com/Ready.
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