Mosquito Mating

OK, that’s not really what mosquito mating entails. Actually, as with most insects, mating in mosquitoes can be divided into four general stages.

Locating and Recognizing Mates

In some mosquito species, the males emerge from the pupa first and are available to mate with females as soon as they emerge. In general, however, mating takes place 24-48 hours after they emerge.

There is much debate by experts regarding whether mosquitoes are drawn more to a location and its environment (and then they can find mates) or if they specifically seek the other sex regardless of location. However, it appears clear that the humming sound made by the vibrating wings of a female can serve as a signal to males of most species (yes, this is the same annoying sound we hear that tells us to take cover). Males can use this sound to locate potential mates – even in the dark. Their antennae are specialized to detect this sound. One study suggested that males are able to discriminate between the sound of virgin females vs. the sound of mated females. Whether the sound is the key attractant or whether breeding ground location plays a role is, as mentioned, a subject of debate and likely depends on the species in question. In fact, for some species, the swarming of males is well underway by the time some females arrive.

Courtship Ritual

Some species of insects may have elaborate courtship rituals or dances and there are a number of species in which males bring “nuptial gifts” to the females. Mosquitoes do not exhibit this level of ritualistic behavior in seeking mates, although several species participate in swarming behavior and this is considered to be a type of courtship display.

The males of swarming species fly above the water surface at different distances from shoreline. Thus, at any given time in, there may be groups of multiple species swarming at a given body of water. These groups may remain separate as “single-species swarms” or mix to become “multiple-species swarms.” The swarms typically occur most often at dusk.

Needless to say, an aggregation of mosquitoes in one location provides a great opportunity for mosquito predators. Birds or insects that prey on mosquitoes are seen to flock to this natural smorgasbord. This phenomenon points to the importance of location within a swarm. Clearly, individual mosquitoes at the edge of a swarm may be more vulnerable to attack from outside. The relative location within the swarm is the subject of studies of genetic fitness and mating success.

Mating

As in most insects, the method of copulation is very quick and almost “surgical” in precision. The male mosquito inserts his intromittent organ into the female genital tract and deposits sperm. In some species, the male may stroke the female lightly with his antennae during this process.

Post-mating Behavior

After mating, the male mosquito is no longer involved in the reproduction of his species. Unlike in some insects, however, at least he survives the event (i.e., males not eaten by the females, as seen in some insects). He doesn’t survive long, however. Males die after six or seven days in most species, whereas the female may live 2 weeks to 3 months.

In order for her eggs to hatch properly, a female mosquito must feed on blood. Thus, after mating, the semen remains stored inside her until later.

Once she has a blood meal, the female mosquito will lay her first (and largest) brood of 50-500 eggs. Thereafter, her broods will be smaller, but she may have 8-10 broods and must feed on blood between each. She lays her eggs on or near standing water. Water is a necessary component of mosquito development and we typically see a greater mosquito problem in years with increased rainfall.

In some species, the female may mate only once in her lifetime. She stores the sperm in her body, fertilizing the eggs as she deposits them.

Females that emerge into adulthood in late fall will mate once and then locate a place to survive the winter. She may stay hidden within tiny holes in a brick or other secure location that will allow her to survive cold temperatures. When spring arrives, she will emerge, find a blood meal, and lay eggs. And, thus, the cycle begins again.

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