Mosquitoes (family Culicidae, from the Latin culex meaning “midge” or “gnat”) are a family of flies consisting of approximately 3,500 known species. The word “mosquito” comes from Spanish and Portuguese, meaning “little fly.” These insects have existed since the Mesozoic era; they are believed to have first appeared 226 million years ago, around which time the culicid lineage divided into two subfamilies: Anophelinae and Culicinae. Mosquitoes with anatomy similar to that of modern species have been discovered dating back to the Cretaceous period; the oldest example is Paleoculicis minutus, found in 79-million-year-old amber from Canada. Older mosquitoes with more primitive features are known from Burmese amber samples believed to be 90 to 100 million years old. Mosquitoes with completely modern features are not known until 46 million years ago, in the Eocene epoch of the Cenozoic era.
Mosquitoes are infamous carriers of blood-borne disease, including potentially fatal illnesses such as malaria. This is due to the feeding behavior of the female mosquito, who utilizes the protein found in blood as nourishment for her eggs. Mosquitoes, like many small animals, often become trapped in resin from trees and die there. Under the right conditions, this tree resin can fossilize and become the gemstone amber. International Genetic Technologies has famously made use of amber samples containing blood-engorged female mosquitoes from the Mesozoic era to obtain ancient DNA (abbreviated as aDNA), which has revolutionized the field of paleogenetics and allowed for the de-extinction of Mesozoic organisms.
Mosquitoes have varying body plans depending on species, but are generally very small, lightly-built flies with long legs. The body is usually slender. Like all insects, the adult has six limbs and a segmented body; like all flies, it has a single pair of wings, which are extensions of its exoskeleton. On its head, an adult mosquito has a pair of antennae, which often appear feathery; it also has a pair of maxillary palps, one on either side of its face. These are used as sensory organs. The largest known mosquito grows to 19mm (0.7 inches) long, while the smallest reaches 2mm (0.1 inches) long. Most species grow to three to six millimeters long.
The mosquito’s most characteristic feature is its proboscis, which it uses to feed. Situated beneath its comparatively-huge compound eyes, the proboscis is an incredibly thin straw-like structure which pierces the flesh of its food source like a hypodermic needle. Unlike popular culture depictions of mosquitoes, the proboscis is not the mosquito’s “nose,” and it does not have a “mouth” underneath the proboscis. The proboscis is the mosquito’s mouth. The most visible part is called the labium, which acts as a guide for the other mouthparts. There are six of these mouthparts: the mandibles and maxillae are the ones that actually pierce the skin of the host, the hypopharynx is used to deliver saliva, and the labrum is used to draw out blood.
As with all insects, the mosquito’s body is divided into a head, thorax, and abdomen. The thorax is the segment to which the legs and wings attach, while the abdomen contains much of the digestive system. The female’s abdomen is designed to contain large amounts of blood, and can distend to hold three times her weight in blood. Eggs are produced from the abdomen.
Mosquitoes go through a process of metamorphosis as they grow. The first stage of the life cycle is called the larva. These are a familiar sight, commonly seen in stagnant water such as ponds. The larva, sometimes called a “wriggler,” is a limbless worm-like creature with a well-defined head, large thorax, and segmented abdomen. In some cases, the larva may be large and bulky compared to the adult. Larvae are aquatic, but cannot breathe underwater; they surface frequently to breathe, either through spiracles on the eighth abdominal segment or through a siphon. The larva has brushes on its mouth that it uses to feed on microorganisms. Numerous thin hairs are present on the sides of the larva; it uses these, along with the brushes on its head, to swim by jerking its body back and forth. After five days to two weeks, the larva will metamorphose into a pupa.
The mosquito pupa is a comma-shaped creature, commonly called a “tumbler.” Its head and thorax are fused, combining into a cephalothorax. The abdomen curves beneath, and it swims by flipping its abdomen. Like the larvae, the pupae must breathe air despite living in water, so they float to the surface and breathe through a pair of respiratory trumpets. However, the pupae do not eat. After several days, the pupae will come to the surface for their final metamorphosis. The cephalothorax splits open and the adult, or imago, emerges. Adult males will live for up to one week, but may live for as few as five days. Adult females commonly live for two weeks in the wild, but in captivity, have been known to live for up to a month.
Most mosquito species exhibit sexual dimorphism. In many species, the female is larger than the male, with a thicker abdomen. The male of many mosquitoes can be distinguished by bushier antennae and longer maxillary palps; in such species, the male’s palps are longer than the proboscis, while the reverse is true in females.
During reproduction, the female can easily be identified by the fact that she feeds on blood from animal hosts. The male does not.
Because of their aquatic larval stage, mosquitoes are most commonly associated with sources of stagnant fresh water, such as ponds and wetlands. They are found in forested areas where their food sources live; they primarily feed on plant fluids, but the female will target animals when reproducing. The thousands of mosquito species are known from every continent except Antarctica, though they are most common in humid and warm regions.
Mosquitoes have been widespread over the entire world for millions of years, as evidenced by the numerous specimens found preserved in amber samples. They evolved during the Mesozoic era, perhaps appearing over a hundred million years ago based on both fossil and genetic data, and have thrived in warm climates ever since. While they are absent in Antarctica, they are found on every other continent; they live as far south as the very southern tip of South America and as far north as Greenland and the Canadian Arctic. However, in these far northern ranges, they are usually very rare, and are absent from particularly cold or remote places. Subpolar and polar islands, including whole countries like Iceland, have few to no mosquitoes in many cases.
Islands in more amenable climates are not exempt from having mosquitoes. Lightweight and tiny, they are easily blown over long distances and can wind up on even very remote islands. Animals rafting or migrating from one part of the world to another may also bring mosquitoes with them. Forested tropical environments, such as the islands in the Gulf of Fernandez, are particularly hospitable to mosquitoes. The Jurassic Park mobile games (L/M canon) and junior novelizations (JN canon) both mention mosquitoes living on Isla Nublar and Isla Sorna, while mosquito-borne diseases are mentioned in a variety of canons.
On both of these islands, the introduction of de-extinct animals provided mosquitoes with enormous hosts to feed from. In addition, in S/F canon and its derivatives, the opening of Jurassic World would bring millions of people to Isla Nublar, giving the mosquitoes of the island a huge supply of food. Jurassic World closed in 2015 after ten years of operation, and after this the animal population also began to decline; the de-extinct animal population of Isla Sorna had long since collapsed. In 2018, the eruption of Mount Sibo destroyed most of the Isla Nublar ecosystem, so there are probably very few mosquitoes in much of the island now. Their main hosts are ocean animals, such as seabirds and seals, as well as small opportunistic land animals such as rats which can survive in heavily damaged ecosystems.
The mosquitoes that turn up in various parts of the world are not always native to that region. In modern times, the constant travel of humans and their goods from one place to another can inadvertently transport mosquito eggs or larvae, and sometimes live adults, along with them. For example, international trade has brought mosquitoes from the Old World across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans to the New World, along with the diseases they carry.
The game Jurassic Park: Builder featured a plotline on Isla Nublar in which John Hammond becomes infected with malaria, which is caused by Plasmodium species (commonly P. falciparium), a microorganism that lives in Anopheles mosquitoes. The species Anopheles gambiae is a likely candidate. Other mosquito-borne diseases are mentioned in the Jurassic World Employee Handbook as being an issue on Isla Nublar, including yellow fever and Zika fever. These are transmitted by the mosquitoes Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus. Jurassic World employees were able to receive free vaccinations and preventative health measures against these diseases through the Masrani Healthcare Network. It is likely that invasive mosquitoes were also introduced to Isla Sorna in S/F canon.
While mosquitoes flourished on Isla Nublar while Jurassic World existed, their numbers likely decreased noticeably when the park was indefinitely closed in late 2015. The animals, now released into the wild, no longer had protection against mosquitoes and became their primary food source. Animal populations decreased from 2017 until mid-2018 due to volcanic activity, and with the eruption of Mount Sibo between 2018 and 2022, the number of both introduced and native mosquitoes drastically declined.
Behavior and Ecology
Many mosquito species are crepuscular or nocturnal, active mostly when other animals are sleeping. However, some are equally active during the day.
Diet and Feeding Behavior
The diet of the mosquito varies as it grows. When it is a larva, it feeds using the brushes on its head, which it uses to deliver food to its mouth. The larva’s diet consists of microorganisms, and it is an omnivore; it may feed on bacteria, microalgae, and minute pieces of organic material. It feeds from the surface microlayer of the water.
Pupae do not eat, and are relatively inactive. Upon reaching adulthood, the mosquito primarily feeds on fluids from plants, such as nectar. Females will turn hematophagous when it is time for them to reproduce; they consume blood to provide their developing eggs with protein and iron. To feed from a host, the mosquito will pierce the skin using parts of its proboscis. Its saliva prevents blood from clotting, so the mosquito can feed until it is full or until the host notices it.
To select an ideal host, the mosquito uses an array of incredible sensory abilities. They prefer hosts with Type O blood, heavy breathing, high body heat, and high quantities of skin bacteria. They also target pregnant hosts. All of these qualities in a host can be detected by the mosquito from some distance away, and are determined by chemical signals and the scent of sweat in the host.
While most mosquitoes engage in blood-feeding, some, such as the elephant mosquitoes of the genus Toxorhynchites, do not. Instead, the adults feed on nectar, honeydew, sap, and other plant fluids even when reproducing. The larvae of elephant mosquitoes are predators, feeding on tiny freshwater organisms (including the larvae of smaller mosquitoes).
Host species vary from one species of mosquito to another. This relationship extends hundreds of millions of years back through time; nearly every species that InGen has recreated through cloning was potentially a host to mosquitoes. The only species that definitely were not would have been species that lived earlier than 226 million years ago, such as Herrerasaurus. Even plant life has been host to mosquitoes since the Mesozoic; this enabled InGen to bring plant species back from extinction, such as the veriformans of the Cretaceous period.
In the modern day, mosquitoes will primarily take blood meals from mammals and birds. They also feed from reptiles, amphibians, and even some fish. A few mosquitoes will feed from insects and other arthropods.
Mosquitoes are not known for being social, though they will tolerate one another and can often be found in enormous swarms. This is less due to a need for interaction than it is the mosquitoes all flocking to an area where conditions are ideal. Males will congregate in swarms to attract females, coordinating through the use of pheromones and visual signals.
Eggs are laid in stagnant water sources, typically in large clusters that float on the surface. Some lay eggs in ponds, either on the shore or on aquatic plants, while others lay eggs in water that pools inside of plants. The oviposition behavior and egg morphology varies with species. Some mosquitoes are tolerant of salt water; some even specialize in salt marshes and estuaries. In most species, the female is careful of choosing where her eggs are laid, picking a location that is ideal for her species’ needs.
Larvae hatch from the eggs after a variable number of days, and typically metamorphose after five to fourteen days. The pupae will then metamorphose once more after a few days. Adults have very short lifespans; the males may only live for five days. As a result, the males will likely only mate once. Females, on the other hand, can reproduce several times until they die. Males have enlarged antennae to detect the characteristic whining sound made by the females’ wings, and in most species, males will gather in huge swarms which the females will then fly into in order to find mates. Once mated, the females will continue consuming blood to provide nutrients for their eggs, and once they are full they will rest for a few days as their eggs develop. They will then lay the eggs in a suitable place and resume the cycle.
Mosquitoes do not have a complex social life, and so do not communicate extensively. They can coordinate by the use of scent, sight, and hearing. Males have larger antennae than females, and have better hearing; they use their sense of hearing to listen for the distinctive sounds made by the wings of the female in flight.
Throughout the history of their family, mosquitoes have preyed upon countless plant and animal species spanning 226 million years up until the present day. Their hosts include virtually all known types of vertebrate life, as well as some species of arthropods.
Mosquitoes are perhaps best known for their ability to spread blood-borne disease. If a mosquito drinks the blood of an infected animal, it becomes something akin to a dirty needle. Any animals that it feeds from in the future are at risk of becoming infected by whatever pathogen the mosquito contains in its stomach. One of the most infamous of these is malaria, a disease caused by Plasmodium; the mobile game Jurassic Park Builder portrays this disease as occurring on Isla Nublar. Mosquitoes are known to spread diseases that affect species other than humans, making them a risk to other animals as well.
However, mosquitoes themselves are affected by parasitic fungi and nematodes. Fish such as the mosquitofish, copepods, and dragonfly nymphs all feed on the larvae, and some fish and adult dragonflies feed on the adults. Some reptiles, such as geckos, also feed on adult mosquitoes.
The mosquito is a common nuisance as well as a source of disease, some of which can be devastating. It is familiar to virtually all people everywhere, especially in warm regions. In wealthier communities, such as some socioeconomic regions of the United States, mosquitoes are a mere annoyance, while in poor communities these insects are perceived as more of a threat because of the expensive inaccessibility of medicine. During overseas American military operations in tropical countries, soldiers often must be warned about mosquito-borne disease; the insects are often compared to dirty needles to inform people of their potential as disease vectors.
In art and culture, mosquitoes are often used as symbols of parasitism. This is not entirely accurate, since only the female mosquito drinks blood, and it only does this when gravid. In many cases people are unaware of this and depict male mosquitoes as hematophagous, or depict mosquitoes as subsisting entirely on blood; people who do understand mosquito biology may create their own symbolic meanings for the insect. Like all flies and many types of insects, it is often generally used as a symbol of evil or decay.
Many cultures in Siberia and central or eastern Asia have similar origin myths regarding mosquitoes. In these myths, mosquitoes share a common origin from the ashes or other destroyed remains of evil giants or demons. This ties into the idea of mosquitoes as symbols of evil.
Many species of mosquitoes can be kept in captivity very easily, since their larvae flourish in most types of stagnant fresh water and they lay vast numbers of eggs. The most common reason to breed mosquitoes is for disease research, which is essential in determining ways of combating mosquito-borne disease.
Laboratory mosquitoes are usually contained with glass and mesh netting, and can be reared on nectar and other plant substances. Of course, the blood-drinking species need to be provided with blood in order to breed. Eggs are collected and placed in a container of stagnant water where the larvae can feed on microorganisms. The adults are fairly short-lived and are usually the end goal of breeding. Many laboratory mosquitoes are genetically modified, especially in experiments meant to combat disease.
Mosquitoes are used in disease research as well as entomology. Of particular concern is the effect that changing climate will have on the spread of mosquito-borne disease. When regions become warmer and wetter, they become ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes and therefore subject to vector-borne disease epidemics. Scientists are continuously studying the factors that influence mosquito breeding and dispersion to better prepare for how their population growth patterns will change in the future.
The spread of disease carried by mosquitoes is a major issue in warm, socioeconomically suppressed regions where medicine is made inaccessible and expensive. The Centers for Disease Control have worked in Florida to experimentally sterilize the disease-bearing invasive mosquito population. From 2019 onward, scientists have succeeded in releasing genetically modified mosquitoes that are incapable of having healthy female offspring. The modified mosquitoes have a fluorescent marker gene which helps researchers identify them from wild mosquitoes, and a self-limiting gene which kills the females before they reach maturity. Males with the self-limiting gene can only produce male offspring. They are released into the wild and effectively replace wild male mosquitoes, mating with females and producing more male offspring that carry the self-limiting gene. Their female offspring die. As a result, the mosquito population decreases over time, with fewer and fewer female offspring surviving in each generation.
Using genetically modified mosquitoes, rather than more traditional insecticides, is beneficial because it can target a particular species. For example, a genetically modified malaria mosquito will only be able to mate with a wild malaria mosquito, and thereby can only reduce the population of that one species. The malaria mosquito, an invasive species, will be reduced, while native mosquito species are unharmed. This reduces impact on the local ecosystem.
As can be expected, one of the major political controversies involving mosquitoes is the genetic modification of invasive disease-carrying mosquito species. Many people do not understand what genetic modification is or how it works, mainly learning about it from popular media and political talking points, and balk at the phrase “one billion genetically-modified mosquitoes released into the wild.” Despite resistance, the program has been effectively used in Latin America and is approved by multiple countries.
Disease is an international issue: insects largely do not respect country borders and will roam across whatever environment is amenable to them. Many mosquito-borne diseases are economically significant, and so for some countries population control is a high priority. Diseases can not only harm or kill humans, but also livestock and vital wildlife species that a country’s economy relies on.
The expanding range of disease-infected mosquitoes is also of international concern, and for some countries this is one of the major drives toward opposing climate change. However, in developed nations where the fossil fuel industry exercises considerable control over policy, climate change is considered acceptable and the spread of mosquito-borne disease is tolerated as an inevitability rather than something which can be stopped. This is further exacerbated in capitalist countries, where disease is a business opportunity for pharmaceutical corporations. Disease has a greater impact on impoverished people, who are considered expendable in capitalist cultures.
While the mosquito is chiefly a nuisance, with some carrying medically significant microorganisms, there are certain mosquito species that are beneficial to humans. Chief among these is the elephant mosquito (Toxorhynchites), which is one of the non-hematophagous mosquitoes. The larvae of one species, Toxorhynchites splendens, is carnivorous and feeds on the larvae of other mosquitoes, including the yellow fever mosquito (Aedes aegypti). Since it does not drink blood as an adult and preys on harmful mosquito larvae, it can be used as a biological control agent.
While mosquitoes do form a link in the food web, it is a role that can be filled by other insects about as well. In fact, there are few ecological roles played by the mosquito that cannot be performed by any other animal. The only irreplaceable role mosquitoes seem to serve is the transmission of blood from one host to another, which benefits only the microorganisms transmitted in these bites.
In the Genetic Age, mosquitoes and other hematophagous organisms have had an unexpected role to play in the scientific field. If a female mosquito feeds on the blood of an organism, becomes trapped in tree resin, and becomes fossilized among certain iron structures, scientists can recover the fossil and extract aDNA from the mosquito. First demonstrated in S/F canon by paleogeneticist Dr. Laura Sorkin in 1985, scientists have since performed de-extinction procedures on a great many species using amber samples containing mosquitoes and other parasites.
The relationship between mosquitoes and genetic resurrection is explored in a different way in the L/M canon mobile game Jurassic World: The Game. In this game, Dr. Henry Wu explains that some of the dinosaurs’ genomes are contaminated with gene inclusions from the same prehistoric mosquitoes their DNA was obtained from, which causes malformations, shortened lifespans, and other health problems. Part of the game’s plot involves Dr. Wu identifying “legacy” assets which have contaminated DNA and “candidate” assets which are free of contamination.
While the amount of blood taken by a mosquito is negligible, the diseases that can be transmitted in a bite are not. On rare occasions, people with hypersensitivity to mosquito bites can also suffer threatening allergic reactions to proteins in the mosquito’s saliva. In any case, being bitten by a mosquito is a situation that is best avoided, since there is no way to screen once hundred percent of local mosquitoes for disease.
Methods to prevent mosquito bites are varied. The simplest is to avoid going outside at dawn or dusk during warmer times of the year when adult mosquitoes are active, and to apply insect repellent when outside at other times of the day. When camping in woodland where mosquitoes are unavoidable, or if living in conditions where mosquitoes can easily get inside the house, consider the use of a mosquito net while sleeping: this will prevent the insects gaining access to you, which will reduce your risk of contracting disease.
Preemptive methods to decrease mosquito populations are common, and there are some measures you can personally take to contribute. The most effective of these is to reduce standing water around your area, such as stagnant ponds, water pooled in wheelbarrows or buckets, and gutters. Assisting in relief efforts after flooding events can help reduce standing water on a larger scale and prevent mosquito population booms. Since these insects mostly lay their eggs in stagnant water, this removes the places they can breed. Protecting the populations of animals that eat mosquitoes, their eggs, and their larvae is another highly effective method of population control.
If you are traveling to a region where mosquito-borne disease is very common, it is recommended to take the appropriate preventative measures before leaving. For example, environmental destruction and colonialism in Africa and Latin America have resulted in mosquito population booms in these parts of the world. Travelers should consult with a doctor before departing and obtain medications which can protect against mosquito-borne diseases prevalent in the region.
Unfortunately, global economic disparity has left many parts of the world (particularly in the global south) more vulnerable to disease. Mosquitoes kill more people than any other animal does, even including homicide and acts of war. A minimum of two million people die every year from mosquito-borne disease, chiefly in countries that have suffered from imperialism and have no access to advanced medical care. You can contribute to combating mosquito-borne disease through organizations such as the Against Malaria Foundation and Doctors Without Borders.
Behind the Scenes
In the film version of Jurassic Park, the insect in John Hammond‘s amber-capped walking cane is often stated by fans and media sources to be a mosquito. However, it is actually a crane fly.