Types of Mosquitoes: A Friendly Guide to Identification

Mosquitoes are more than just pesky insects that cause itchy bites; they can also transmit various diseases. There are over 3,000 species of mosquitoes worldwide, but they can be generally categorized into three main types: Anopheles, Aedes, and Culex. Each type has distinct characteristics and behaviors that set them apart, making it important for you to familiarize yourself with them for better prevention and control strategies.

Anopheles mosquitoes are known for their potential to transmit malaria, a life-threatening disease prevalent in many parts of the world. They are easily identifiable by their angled resting position, with their heads down and abdomens pointing upwards. Meanwhile, Aedes mosquitoes, which are primarily responsible for transmitting viruses like dengue, Zika, and yellow fever, can be recognized by their black and white striped legs and body.

Lastly, Culex mosquitoes are responsible for spreading West Nile virus and can be found all over the world. They have a classic mosquito appearance with long legs and slender bodies but generally lack any distinctive markings. Understanding the differences between these types of mosquitoes can help you take appropriate precautions to protect yourself and your loved ones from their bites and the diseases they may carry.

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Life Cycle of Mosquitoes

Eggs and Larvae

Mosquitoes have a fascinating life cycle, beginning with their eggs. Female mosquitoes lay their eggs either individually or in groups called rafts, directly on the surface of water. For example, the Anopheles species, known for spreading malaria, prefers to lay its eggs in marshy areas or near banks of shallow creeks and streams. Usually, females lay between 50 and 200 eggs at a time.

When the eggs hatch, they turn into larvae, which are commonly found in pools or puddles. To survive, these larvae need to be in water, where they feed on microorganisms and organic material.

Adult Mosquitoes

As the larvae grow, they eventually turn into pupae. During this stage, they don’t eat but undergo a series of changes to transform into adult mosquitoes. The transformation process takes about two days to a week. After emerging from the pupal case, the adult mosquitoes are ready to start their own life cycle.

Unfortunately, adult mosquitoes can be a nuisance and spread diseases. Both male and female mosquitoes feed on plant nectar for energy. However, only female mosquitoes require blood meals to produce eggs. When a female mosquito bites a host to get her blood meal, she may transmit pathogens that cause diseases, such as malaria or dengue fever.

In general, the lifespan of male mosquitoes is shorter than that of females. Males live only for about a week, while female mosquitoes may live for a month or longer, depending on the species and environmental factors.

To summarize the differences between male and female mosquitoes, here’s a comparison table:

Male MosquitoesFemale Mosquitoes
Shorter lifespan (around 1 week)Longer lifespan (up to a month or more)
Do not bite or require bloodBite and require blood meals
Feed on plant nectarFeed on plant nectar and host blood

By understanding the life cycle of mosquitoes and their breeding habits, you can take preventive measures to limit their population and reduce the risk of diseases they transmit.

Physiology of Mosquitoes

General Body Structure

Mosquitoes, like all insects, have a body divided into three main parts: head, thorax, and abdomen. Their size can vary among species, but generally, they are small creatures with a length of around 0.125 to 0.75 inches (3 to 19 mm) according to a source from Rutgers Center for Vector Biology.

Head: The head of a mosquito contains essential sensory organs like compound eyes, antennae, and a mouthpart called a proboscis. The antennae, covered in fine hairs or scales, help them detect smells and sounds. Proboscis, a tube-like structure, is used for piercing and feeding on blood or nectar.

Thorax: The thorax is the central part of a mosquito’s body, where its wings and legs are attached. Mosquitoes have two pairs of wings, with the front pair being larger and used for flying. The hind wings are smaller and provide stability. Mosquitoes have three pairs of long, slender legs that allow them to rest on water or land surfaces.

Unique Identifying Marks

Different species of mosquitoes may exhibit unique identifying marks, usually in the form of white markings on their body. For instance:

  • Aedes aegypti: This species, which is a primary vector for dengue, yellow fever, and Zika virus, has white markings on its legs and a lyre-shaped pattern of white scales on the dorsal side of its thorax.
  • Aedes albopictus: Also known as the Asian tiger mosquito, it transmits several diseases like dengue and chikungunya. It has distinct black and white striped legs and a single white stripe running down the center of its thorax and abdomen.

Understanding Mosquito Bites

Why Mosquitoes Bite

Mosquitoes bite because they need protein from your blood to produce their eggs. When a mosquito bites you, it pierces your skin with its mouthparts, injecting its saliva containing anticoagulants and enzymes that help them acquire the blood meal. Your body reacts to these substances, causing the itchiness and redness associated with mosquito bites. Mosquitoes are also attracted to the carbon dioxide you exhale, as well as other chemicals present on your skin.

Diseases Transmitted by Mosquito Bites

Mosquito bites can transmit various mosquito-borne diseases caused by viruses, parasites, or germs. Some well-known diseases spread by mosquito bites include:

  • Malaria: Caused by a parasite and transmitted by the Anopheles mosquito. Symptoms include fever, chills, and flu-like symptoms.
  • Dengue Fever: Spread by Aedes mosquitoes, dengue is characterized by high fever, severe headache, joint pain, and rash.
  • West Nile Virus: Transmitted mainly by Culex mosquitoes, this virus causes symptoms like fever, headache, body aches, and sometimes skin rash.
  • Zika Virus: Spread by Aedes mosquitoes, Zika virus can cause mild symptoms such as fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis.
  • Yellow Fever: Carried by Aedes and Haemagogus mosquitoes, this viral disease causes fever, chills, and nausea.
  • St. Louis Encephalitis: Transmitted by Culex mosquitoes, this virus can cause fever, headache, vomiting, and confusion in severe cases.

Comparison Table of Some Mosquito-Borne Diseases

DiseaseMosquito SpeciesCommon Symptoms
MalariaAnophelesFever, chills, flu-like symptoms
DengueAedesHigh fever, headache, joint pain, rash
West Nile VirusCulexFever, headache, body aches, skin rash
ZikaAedesMild fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis
Yellow FeverAedes, HaemagogusFever, chills, nausea
St. Louis EncephalitisCulexFever, headache, vomiting, confusion

To prevent mosquito bites and the transmission of these diseases, use insect repellent, wear long sleeves, and ensure your living environment is free of standing water where mosquitoes can breed. Proper mosquito control practices can help minimize the risks associated with mosquito bites and the diseases they transmit.

Distribution and Diversity of Mosquitoes

Common Mosquitoes Across the Globe

Mosquitoes are remarkably widespread creatures. They inhabit nearly every part of the world, from the United States to Africa, and from Southeast Asia to North America. Their distribution varies depending on the mosquito species, but you’ll generally find them in both tropical and temperate regions.

In the United States, for example, there are over 200 types of mosquitoes. Among these, about 12 types are known to spread diseases that can make people sick. Some common disease-carrying mosquitoes found here include the Aedes aegypti, Culex species, and Anopheles species 1.

Similarly, Africa and Southeast Asia are home to a variety of mosquito species. However, these regions also face greater challenges with mosquito-borne diseases like malaria, dengue, and Zika fever.

While the Midwest of the U.S. experiences fewer mosquito-borne diseases, they still have their fair share of these biting insects. Mosquito presence generally increases near bodies of water, as their larvae and pupae thrive in stagnant or low-flowing water 2.

To provide a clearer comparison of mosquito distribution in various regions, here’s a table highlighting key differences:

RegionTypes of MosquitoesMosquito-borne Diseases
United StatesAedes aegypti, Culex, AnophelesWest Nile, Zika
AfricaAnopheles, AedesMalaria, Dengue
Southeast AsiaAedes, Culex, AnophelesDengue, Malaria, Zika
North AmericaAedes, Culex, AnophelesWest Nile, Zika
U.S. MidwestCulex, AnophelesWest Nile

Keep in mind that this table presents a simplified overview of mosquito distribution and diversity. There are, of course, regional variations and many other factors influencing mosquito populations and disease risks.

Types of Mosquitoes

Aedes Mosquitoes

There are many mosquito species in the world, but one common type is the Aedes mosquito. Among the Aedes species, two examples are:

  • Aedes aegypti (Yellow Fever mosquito)
  • Aedes albopictus (Asian Tiger mosquito)

These mosquitoes are known for spreading illnesses like dengue and Zika virus. The Ae. aegypti mosquito mainly transmits diseases in the United States, while Aedes albopictus can be found in various parts of the world.

Culex Mosquitoes

Another type of mosquito you might encounter is the Culex mosquito. Some common Culex species include:

  • Culex quinquefasciatus
  • Culex pipiens
  • Culex tarsalis

These mosquitoes can transmit West Nile virus, and they are typically active at dusk and dawn.

Here’s a comparison table for the different Culex species:

SpeciesHabitatDiseases SpreadActive Time
Culex quinquefasciatusUrban and suburban, prefers stagnant waterWest Nile virusDusk and dawn
Culex pipiensRural to urban areas, prefers standing waterWest Nile virusDusk and dawn
Culex tarsalisWestern US, prefers warmer climatesWest Nile virusNight

Anopheles Mosquitoes

Lastly, let’s take a look at Anopheles mosquitoes. Two common Anopheles species in the United States are:

  • Anopheles freeborni
  • Anopheles quadrimaculatus

These mosquitoes are primarily responsible for spreading malaria. They typically bite during the night, and they prefer clean, stagnant water to lay their eggs.

In summary, these are three prominent mosquito types: Aedes, Culex, and Anopheles, each with their unique characteristics and disease-spreading capabilities. Stay aware of the mosquitoes in your area and remember to take precautions to protect yourself from their bites.

Mosquito Control and Prevention

Reducing Mosquito Breeding Sites

To reduce the chances of a mosquito outbreak, it is crucial to eliminate breeding sites. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water, so targeting any sources of stagnant water around your property is essential. Here’s what you can do:

  • Once a week, empty and scrub items that hold water, such as vases, flowerpot saucers, and birdbaths.
  • Remove old used tires and any other water-holding debris from your yard.
  • Keep gutters clean and functioning properly to prevent water from pooling.
  • Fill in low-lying areas where water might accumulate after rain.

For more information about reducing mosquito breeding sites, visit the CDC’s mosquito control page.

Pest Control Methods

In addition to eliminating standing water, there are several common pest control methods you can use to protect yourself and your family:

  • Screens: Install screens on your windows and doors to keep mosquitoes outdoors. Regularly inspect and repair any holes to maintain their effectiveness.
  • Insect Repellents: Apply EPA-registered mosquito repellent on exposed skin when spending time outdoors.
  • Clothing: Wear long sleeves and pants to minimize skin exposure. Light colors are preferable as they are less attractive to mosquitoes.
  • Outdoor insecticides: Consider using outdoor insecticides in your yard or green areas to control mosquitoes.
  • Professional pest control: If your still having issues with Mosquitos and you can hire a professional. Click here to call a local company.

By following these guidelines and removing places where mosquitoes can breed, you are effectively reducing the chances of experiencing an outbreak, and keeping your family safe from mosquito-borne diseases. For more information, consult the CDC’s resources on mosquito control.

Mosquitoes and the Environment

Interaction with Other Species

Mosquitoes are known to interact with various species within their ecosystem. For instance, they play a crucial role as a food source for many animals, including birds and dragonflies.

  • Ecological adaptations of mosquitoes help them thrive in specific environments, making them an essential part of the food chain.

Impact of Climate and Weather

Climate and weather conditions greatly influence the population and behavior of mosquitoes. Factors like temperature, floods, and hurricanes can impact their breeding and survival rates.

  • Higher temperatures increase mosquito reproduction and activity, potentially leading to more risk of disease transmission.
  • Floods create ideal conditions for mosquitoes to lay their eggs, while hurricanes can disperse them to new areas.
FactorsPositive Impact on MosquitoesNegative Impact on Mosquitoes
TemperatureIncreases reproductionDecreases survival at extremes
FloodsCreates breeding groundsCan wash away eggs
HurricanesDisperses mosquitoesCan destroy breeding sites

By understanding the environmental factors affecting mosquitoes, you can better predict their population growth and take necessary preventive measures to protect yourself from mosquito-borne diseases.

Conclusion

In this article, you learned about the various types of mosquitoes that belong to the Culicidae family. With over 3,500 species worldwide, these pesky insects can be quite a nuisance.

You may have been introduced to some species that are more prevalent in certain areas, causing discomfort to humans and animals alike. Although not all species are disease carriers, it is worth noting that a small number pose a significant threat to public health.

Scientists continue to study mosquitoes, which helps promote better understanding and more effective control methods. These efforts are vital to reducing the impact of mosquitoes on our lives, particularly those species that spread diseases.

You can now better appreciate the distinctions among mosquito species and their varying characteristics. Always remember the importance of staying informed and taking necessary precautions to protect yourself and your loved ones from the potential hazards these insects present.

Footnotes

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/mosquitoes/about/mosquitoes-in-the-us.html

  2. https://www.cdc.gov/mosquitoes/about/where-mosquitoes-live.html

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Possibly a Mosquito not being repelled

Is this a skeeter or what??
Location unknown
July 19, 2010
In the grocery store recently, I found a little flying critter sitting on, yes, a bottle of mosquito repellent. It was too funny and I had to take a pic! But I went online later to look at mosquito pictures, and none of them look like this fella. Can you tell me what it actually is?
Amused but confused
Thanks,
Alice

Is that a Mosquito on the Mosquito Repellent???

Hi Alice,
Sadly, we do not have a conclusive answer for you, but we are also terribly amused by the possibility that this might be a Mosquito on the bottle of repellent.  Judging by the antennae, it might be a male, and male Mosquitoes do not bite.  It might also be a Midge.  At any rate, we are cropping out the product name in your photo in an effort to not compromise product sales.

Letter 2 – Predatory Mosquito from Australia

Unknown insect
Location: Perth, Western Australia, Australia
August 29, 2011 2:25 am
Dear bugman
I have recently discovered the world of macro photography, particularly insects.
I found this little guy clinging to the leaf of a cordyline in my garden.
I would guess it is approx 20mm in length from head to tail (not including antennae)
If you can also recommend a great resource for me to start learning to identify bugs myself, it would be greatly appreciated.
Signature: Regards, Jon – Carassius Productions

Predatory Mosquito

Dear Jon,
The manner in which this insect holds its legs is very characteristic of a Mosquito.  We believe we might have identified your Mosquito as a Predatory Mosquito, 
Toxorhynchites speciosus, by comparing it to images on the Insects of Brisbane website.  Since female Mosquitoes feed on the blood of other creatures, including humans, we are not entirely certain why this species is called a Predatory Mosquito to distinguish it from other Mosquitoes.  We then learned on the Department of Medical Entomology USYD website, that the larvae are predatory on the larvae of other Mosquitoes.  We also learned:  “Habits & Habitats  Adults are seldom collected as they are not blood-feeders and not attracted to humans; they feed on plant juices and nectar; they are sometimes seen in gardens and occasionally enter houses during warmer months. The larval stages are predacious on other mosquito larvae.  Vector & Pest Status  There is no concern for a pest nuisance as the species does not bite, and thus there is no relation to disease.”  We generally start our online research of Australian insects with the Insects of Brisbane website. 

Letter 3 – Tumbler: AKA Mosquito Pupa

pics I sent a couple days ago
Location: Strong City, Kansas
July 29, 2011 2:04 pm
Well, whaddya know. I dumped the pool, but had a few specimens in a cup in the house which I had collected so I could photograph them. 2 days later their little skins are floating limp in the water, while 3 sweet little baby mosquitos are on the side of the cup, patiently waiting for someone to open it and set them free. They have white stripes on their legs. As larvae, they looked so different from the mosquito larvae I know that I thought they were something else. Anyway, thanks for all the stuff you do.
Signature: prairiecricket

Tumbler: Mosquito Pupa

Dear prairiecricket,
Mosquito Larvae are frequently called Wrigglers, and the Pupae are called Tumblers because of the manner in which they move through water.  This is a Tumbler or Mosquito Pupa, which may explain why it looks different from the Mosquito Larvae you are familiar with.  Based on your description and location, your Mosquitoes may have been Asian Tiger Mosquitoes,
Aedes albopictus, which you may view on BugGuide.

Letter 4 – Probably Japanese Rock Pool Mosquito

Mosquito

Mosquito

Mosquito
Location: Mid-Missouri
October 30, 2010 11:50 pm
I finally lucked out. I have been wanting to get a shot of a mosquito for awhile and never can. Maybe it’s just me, but I can not just grab my gear and take a photo while they feed on me. I rarely see them other than getting squished on my arm for being invasive. Anyway, onto this girl (I believe it to be a female based on the antennae…do you agree?), I saw this one hanging out on my son’s outdoor playhouse. Talk about accommodating…. she just sat there while I took multiple shots from different angles. I was even able to do some handheld focus stacking which was very helpful. I was so grateful that I didn’t even squash the potentially highly disease/virus carrying insect when I was done. I just let her go on her way to bite me another day. (for the record….mosquitos are about the only insect that I have no problem with killing due to their feeding habits and virus/disease tendencies)
As for ID. I am at a 100% loss beyond the Family Culicidae (Mosquito). If you could give me any help as to the Genre or even Species…I’d be extremely grateful.
Signature: Nathanael Siders

Mosquito

Hi Nathanael,
We too are at a loss as to the species identification of this Mosquito.  Perhaps one of our readers will be able to supply a conclusive species identification.

Karl does some research
Hi Daniel and Nathanael:
Whenever I see a mosquito with distinctive white markings, particularly the “white knees”, I automatically think of Aedes sp.  My family spent a few years in Papua New Guinea many years ago and we were taught to recognize the key disease carrying types of mosquitoes, including Aedes aegypti, which is a vector for dengue fever and yellow fever (this is not A. aegypti, although that introduced species has apparently been recoded in Missouri). The white markings and the pointed abdomen means that this mosquito belongs to one of two genera, Aedes or Psorophora, and based on a number of characteristics I am inclined to go with Aedes. By the way, Nathanael, your photos are really excellent and I am sure that any mosquito expert (and I am not one) would be able to give you a positive ID based on them. Apparently, there have been approximately two dozen Aedes species recorded in Missouri, including both native and introduced species, so I am going out on a limb a little by saying I believe yours is A. japonicus, the non-native Japanese Rock Pool Mosquito. You can access a 2000 paper by McCauley et al. that provides an annotated list of all the mosquitoes of Missouri, although it predates the discovery of A. japonicus in your state.  In addition to the arrangement of white spots on the body and legs, the pattern of stripes on the thorax is quite distinctive. Aedes japonicus, an East Asian species, was first reported in the northeastern USA in 1998 and it has been spreading rapidly ever since; to 29 states and Canada by early 2010. It is a relatively new invasive species and a potential disease vector so there is quite a lot of online information. By the way, the species appears to be undergoing a taxonomic revision as many recent reports use the generic name Ochlerotatus instead of Aedes. I hope this helps.
This is an excellent response and thank you so much for all the info.  I looked on bugguide.net and couldn’t find an ID at all…..they actually don’t even have a section for Aedes japonicfus as well as many other Aedes species found in Missouri that you listed.  I will bookmark your links to use as a reference in the meantime and have contacted bugguide.net about having one of their experts look at the images and consider making a guide page for them.
Thank you again.  I particularly appreciate the background info on the Genera and species.  I’m always interested to know as much about the insects I shoot as possible.
Nathanael Karl

Letter 5 – Yellow Fever Mosquito, we believe

Subject:  Bug
Geographic location of the bug:  La Mesa California
Date: 08/03/2018
Time: 01:51 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Just wanted to know what this is we are getting bit leaving big bumps and really itchy
How you want your letter signed:  Robin

Yellow Fever Mosquito, we believe

Dear Robin,
We are sorry to have to bear bad news, but this sure appears to be one of the invasive disease carrying Mosquitoes in the genus
Aedes.  We believe, based on this BugGuide image, that it is the Yellow Fever Mosquito, Aedes aegypti, which is described on BugGuide as being a: “Medium-sized blackish mosquito easily recognized by a silvery-white ‘lyre-shaped’ pattern of scales on its scutum.”  According to BugGuide:  “the most important and efficient epidemic vector of dengue viruses, has been in the United States for over 200 years and was responsible for transmitting major epidemics in the southern states in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  The female mosquitoes are very nervous feeders, disrupting the feeding process at the slightest movement, only to return to the same or a different person to continue feeding moments later. Because of this behavior, A. aegypti females will often feed on several persons during a single blood meal and, if infective, may transmit dengue virus to multiple persons in a short time, even if they only probe without taking blood. It is not uncommon to see several members of the same household become ill with dengue fever within a 24- to 36-h time frame, suggesting that all of them were infected by a single infective mosquito. It is this behavior that makes A. aegypti such an efficient epidemic vector. Inhabitants of dwellings in the tropics are rarely aware of the presence of this mosquito, making its control difficult.”  According to the California Department of Health:  “Two invasive (non-native) mosquito species have recently been found in several California cities …, and there is a potential for them to spread into other areas of California. They are named Aedes aegypti (the yellow fever mosquito) and Aedes albopictus (the Asian tiger mosquito). Unlike most native mosquito species, Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus bite during the day. Both species are small black mosquitoes with white stripes on their back and on their legs. They can lay eggs in any small artificial or natural container that holds water.  Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus have the potential to transmit several viruses, including dengue, chikungunya, Zika, and yellow fever. None of these viruses are currently known to be transmitted within California, but thousands of people are infected with these viruses in other parts of the world, including in Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Asia. The presence of Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes in California poses a threat that Zika, dengue, and chikungunya viruses can be transmitted in infested areas from returned infected travelers. Travelers can protect themselves by preventing mosquito bites. When traveling to countries with dengue, chikungunya, or Zika, use insect repellent, wear long sleeves and pants, and stay in places with air conditioning or with window and door screens. ”  It is important to stress that though these Mosquitoes are present in California, they need to be infected to transmit diseases.  Since the diseases themselves have not been reported in California, the bites you are experiencing will not give you the disease, but nonetheless still result in the itchy welt that appears with most Mosquito bites.

Presumably Yellow Fever Mosquito

Ed. Note:  We noticed this Facebook comment from Richard Schroeder “According to the news, San Diego county has a large number of black salt marsh mosquitoes right now” and we decided we needed additional research.  The San Diego Union-Tribune website and other sources documented a 2009 outbreak of Black Salt Marsh Mosquitoes and images on BugGuide (which does not report the species from California) look similar to the Mosquito pictured in this submission, so the jury is still out on the actual identity of the pictured Mosquito.

Thanks to Cesar Crash for confirming our original identification.

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

    View all posts

8 thoughts on “Types of Mosquitoes: A Friendly Guide to Identification”

  1. Hi everyone. I’m the one who took the photo. Just FYI, in case it helps someone identify this insect, the location was Aurora, Colorado. Thanks!

    Reply
  2. Hi again Nathanael: You have probably already discovered this, but the Bugguide does indeed include the Japanese Rock Pool Mosquito, except they have it under its other common name, the Asian Rock Pool Mosquito. It is also placed under the genus Ochlerotatus which is a relatively recent taxonomic change, as mentioned in my previous response. Both names are still in use and both appear throughout the scientific literature. It’s confusing, but this sort of thing happens all the time as taxonomic revisions seem to never cease. K

    Reply
  3. I worked with these little guys and their cousins Aedes albopictus (Asian tiger mosquito). I can positively identify that as Aedes japonicus. I worked for a year in a lab doing genetic research on a few species of mosquito and became pretty familiar with that surprisingly pretty mosquito.

    Reply

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