It's August, and that means one thing in warmer climates: people spend more time in nature, and nature, in turn, tries to bite them. August is mosquito season, it's snakebite season—hell, even Shark Week is in summer. But lots of the thing we know about summer's flesh-nibbling threats are dead wrong, and that's why we have Ken Jennings from Jeopardy! lurking here in the underbrush to tell us, at long last, the real truth about summer's bitey pests.
The Debunker: What Do Mosquitoes Eat?
As Bill Gates has pointed out, the lowly mosquito is by far the most dangerous animal on earth, killing something like 725,000 people every year. That makes it seven hundred times more deadly than the crocodile, and seven thousand times more deadly than the lion. And that's leaving out the psychic wear and tear of millions of itchy, irritating mosquito bites on vacationers worldwide. That's the one thing everyone knows about mosquitoes: that they bite people and drink our blood. But here's the thing: most of them don't.
For the most part, mosquitoes use their famous little pokey beaks to suck something less gross than blood: sap and nectar out of plants. In many species, both males and females are vegetarians. In others, males stick to fruit and flowers, while female mosquitoes need blood when it's time to make baby mosquitoes. There are specific lipids and proteins in blood that allow egg production to begin. Both mosquito sexes make that annoying high-pitched whine with their wings, but fewer than half are actually thinking about biting.
Even for the species that do need blood to reproduce, humans aren't usually on the menu. Most mosquitoes looking for a blood meal will choose birds or small mammals. In a cruel twist, those are all species that have never invented Benadryl or calamine lotion! Relatively few mosquito species prefer human blood. It may not be too much comfort when you're scratching a new bite, but you can at least console yourself with the thought that for every mosquito that bit you, there were dozens that didn't care for the taste of you at all.
Quick Quiz: The famed "Mosquito Coast" is a region on the shores of what sea?
Ken Jennings is the author of eleven books, most recently his Junior Genius Guides, Because I Said So!, and Maphead. He's also the proud owner of an underwhelming Bag o' Crap. Follow him at ken-jennings.com or on Twitter as @KenJennings.