What Do Mosquitoes Eat?

Mosquitoes are a common and persistent pest that many people despise. One of the fascinating facts about mosquitoes is how their diet can affect biting habits and reproduction.

These insects feed on plant nectar, and the female mosquito supplements her diet with blood meals which allow her to produce eggs.

This article will discuss the mosquito diet and other interesting facts about mosquitoes that you might not know!

Beyond Blood, What do Mosquitoes Eat?

Male and female mosquitoes feed on nectar, sap from plants, and honeydew. This provides enough food for the insects to live and energy to reproduce.

Female mosquitoes also need blood to provide extra protein to develop their eggs. The blood can be from humans, birds, large mammals such as cattle and sheep, small mammals such as rabbits or raccoons, reptiles, amphibians, and snakes. However, not all species of mosquitoes need blood to reproduce.

Male mosquitoes are totally reliant on nectar or other sugar sources. Their survival and reproduction depend on it! Although male mosquitoes never feed on blood and do not transmit diseases, they play a critical role in maintaining the mosquito population.

To find the nectar or sugar, mosquitoes use 3 senses – smell, vision, and taste.

Plants absorb carbon dioxide during the day, but at night they release CO2 as they respire. It is thought that mosquitoes use the CO2 emitted by plants at dusk as a foraging cue, as it’s at this time that the mosquitoes have their peak nectar searching activities.

What Do Mosquitoes Eat at Each Stage of Life?

Mosquitoes also eat before they become adults. The eggs hatch, and the resulting larvae live in water and feed on microscopic organic particles, plant debris, and algae. Feeding brushes around their mouth filter out the particles.

Larvae of some of the larger species of mosquitoes may feed on smaller mosquito larvae. The Toxorhynchites rutilus or elephant mosquito, which doesn’t need blood to produce eggs, preys on other mosquito larvae. There have been efforts to use this species to control other human-biting mosquitoes but with limited success.

Studies suggest well-nourished mosquito larvae will become healthier adults. Lack of sufficient food in the larval stage can affect the development time, body size, fecundity, egg production, and life span.

The larvae develop into the third stage of the life cycle, the pupa. The pupa lives in the water but doesn’t feed. This is a resting stage as the pupa turns into an adult mosquito.

On emerging from the pupal stage, an adult will stay on the water surface to dry out before flying off in search of food, which will normally be nectar.

What is a Mosquitoes Main Food?

mosquito feeding on nectar
Mosquito feeding on a marigold flower by Abhishek727 is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

The food preferences will depend on species, geographical location, and seasonal availability.

You know, that many species of female mosquitoes need blood to produce eggs; the rest of their diet comes mainly from plants. Mosquitoes can distinguish which plants have the higher sugar content.

Many of our garden plants have flowers that contain nectar. So if you have a garden with many flowers, you will attract lots of insects in search of pollen. Floral nectar is the most important part of the mosquito’s plant-based diet.

extrafloral nectar sugar source for mosquitoes
Nectar droplets on the extrafloral nectaries of a Passiflora edulis by Eikuis licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

But it’s not the only part of their plant diet. Other plants produce nectar on the leaves or stems; this is called extrafloral nectar and provides a sugar source for mosquitoes.

Damaged or decaying fruit is another food source. Mosquitoes have shown attraction to rotting fruit when it was used in traps. However, the attraction was a lot less than for CO2-baited traps.

Mosquitoes also feed on plant tissue, and this can be from damaged plants or healthy plants. They obtain sugar and other nutrients from the plant fluids or phloem sap. Although plant tissue may not be the best diet for mosquitoes, it is widely available and can provide sufficient nutrition for mosquito survival.

Honeydew is another of the preferred mosquito foods. Produced by aphids and other sap sucking insects it’s a source of food exploited by many insects. The composition of honeydew will vary depending on the insect producing it and the type of plant host.

A remarkable form of feeding used by at least one mosquito in Asia is that she will latch on to a certain ant species and insert her proboscis into the ant’s mouth and suck out the regurgitate.

Can Mosquitoes Survive Without Blood and Nectar?

Males

An adult male mosquito will only survive about 4 days if deprived of sugar. Males of all species don’t have the skin-piercing mouthparts of females, so they cannot feed on blood.

A male mosquito with low nutrition won’t have the energy reserves for flying and mating. The diet of a male will also affect the production of seminal fluids.

The seminal fluids are transferred to females during mating and affect the females’ behavior and fecundity. A study shows females mating with males who had a low nutritional intake produced significantly fewer larvae than females who had mated with males who had a higher nutritional diet.

Females

On the other hand, a female mosquito is less likely to die rapidly from a sugar deficiency. However, the mortality rate and fecundity may be affected, although this is dependent on species. In studies, the Aedes aegypti was shown to fare just as well or even better without sugar in their diet.

Generally, in most species, a female mosquito will feed on sugar before mating. After feeding on nectar, a female mosquito dedicates a part of the reserves for flight and other energy-demanding behaviors. In the absence of nectar, the female will have to use some nutrients from a blood meal to enable flight and have less of these nutrients to complete the reproduction.

The plant nectar source of nutrition is often overlooked as it’s the blood-feeding that leads to the transmission of diseases.

To combat a sugar deficiency, some species of mosquitoes, notably the Anopheles gambiae, will bite more frequently or take larger blood meals to bring their eggs to maturation and maintain fitness.

What Kinds of Plants Attract Mosquitoes? 

As we mentioned above, if you have flowers in your garden, you will probably attract mosquitoes, as they feed on nectar. But it’s not only nectar that attracts mosquitoes; they are also attracted to water.

So if you have a pond or water feature with water lilies, water lettuce, elephants ear (taro), or papyrus, these will attract mosquitoes.

Plants that provide a possible breeding place also attract mosquitoes. For example, mosquitoes may lay eggs in water that collects in the stems of bamboos. The same goes for plants that retain water on their leaves

Plants that require a lot of watering that may leave a residue of water in a saucer under a pot can attract mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes like shade in the day, so plants that provide ground cover, such as ivy, tall grasses, or shrubs, can harbor the mozzies. Generally, keeping your yard well cut and tidy will help to keep the mosquito population down.

Keep Mosquitoes Out of Your Yard

Although flowers in your garden might attract mosquitoes, they are also attracted to water and need it to breed. Make sure there is no standing water in your yard.

Empty regularly birdbaths or pet drinking bowls, remove anything that collects water, however small, and don’t overwater your plants. If you have or plan on having a pond or water feature, place it a distance from your house or outdoor living area to discourage mosquitoes from finding you. Add fish or mosquito dunks to the pond to stop the mosquitoes from breeding.