Mosquito Behavior and Habitats

Barbara Pleasant shares information on mosquito behavior and habitats, what attracts them and why they bite.

| August/September 2003

Learn about mosquito behavior and habitats to help eliminate mosquito problems.

Learn about mosquito behavior and habitats to help eliminate mosquito problems.


Learn about mosquito behavior and habitats and why they are driven to bite.

Mosquito Behavior and Habitats

North America is home to more than 170 species of mosquito, which vary in size, geographic distribution and behavior. They all need to lay their eggs in standing water (either fresh, salt or brackish). Larvae hatch in two to three days — or two to three months if the weather is not right. The larvae, called wrigglers, feed in the water for a week or so, then pupate for only a few days before emerging as adults.

Male adult mosquitoes feed mostly on flower nectar and do not bite humans, but female mosquitoes require high-protein blood meals to produce eggs. In a single feeding, a female mosquito doubles her weight, and she's usually ready to feed again in three to four days. Species vary in their preferred times to feed; many feed from twilight into the night, while others are active during the day. Some species prefer to dine on the blood of birds or other animals, while some, called anthropophilic mosquitoes, like humans best. The wiliest species switch around with the seasons, seeking out humans when they can find them, and settling for other animals when people are scarce.

To attract a mosquito, simply exhale. In doing so, you breathe more than 100 volatile compounds into the air; simultaneously, your skin releases another 100 or so, including some that mosquitoes pick up with chemoreceptors on their antennae. Following your gaseous plume, mosquitoes move in, where they are attracted more intensely by the warmth and moisture of your body. Then comes the bite.

If you think you are being bitten while your companion is not, you may be right: Some people attract more mosquitoes than others, according to Iowa State University entomologist John VanDyk.

Barbara Pleasant, a regular contributor to MOTHER EARTH NEWS, is the author of  The Gardener's Bug Book. Her most recent book, Garden Stone, received the Garden Globe award from the Garden Writers of America.

mrs. v
7/11/2011 3:22:29 PM

Check out Buzz-Off at God's Country Botanicals. It contains 11 insect-repelling essential oils in an insect-repelling base of soybean oil. Better-than-DEET ingredients include catnip oil, lemon eucalyptus and geranium, as well as the old stand-bys citronella and lemongrass oil. Find it at

kathleen mckernan
6/25/2011 3:52:30 PM

We live in the coastal area of New Jersey and the mosquito is our state bird. Lemon balm planted near where you enter/leave your home works wonders. Just grab a handful of leaves and rub them all over. Smells great and keeps the critters (including no-see-ums) away. We think it works on ticks too but can't promise.

6/17/2011 12:54:33 AM

check out trap at green power science on you tube. also cheap spray to kill captured mosquitoes and feed them to good bugs in your garden.

elli sparks
6/15/2011 4:56:48 PM

When my son gets bitten his skin reacts right away with a big bump and lots of itching. We've found teatree oil to be extremely effective in reducing swelling and eliminating itch. The trick is to apply it within an hour or so.

6/15/2011 3:28:25 PM

The plant that will grow in compact soil, mentioned at the end of the article, is plantain. The article has been corrected to reflect that fact.

6/15/2011 2:04:55 PM

I also did not see what the common weed that grows in compacted soil to help with bites. What is it?

6/15/2011 12:27:39 PM

Fran, I don't see the weed remedy either! I googled it and found that Plantain can be used on bug bites (just do an internet search to see what it looks like - I have some in my yard and never knew what they were called). Here is an excerpt from the website about how to use it: "How to use plantain? Make a fresh leaf poultice. Pick a leaf, chew it well and put it on the bite. "Like magic" the pain, heat, and swelling -- even allergic reactions -- disappear, fast! (Yes, you can dry plantain leaves and carry them in your first aid kit. Chew like you would fresh leaves.) Poultices ease pain, reduce swelling, and help heal. No wonder they're the number one natural choice for treating insect bites, bee and wasp stings." You can go to to read up some more. I'll have to try this!

fran kilmer
6/15/2011 11:12:13 AM

Did I miss something? In the last section, If You Are Bitten, what is the common weed that grows in compacted soil and can be used after a bite? I failed to see the weed identified.

suzanne horvath
6/15/2011 9:53:57 AM

I'm in the process of ordering Buhach powder to control mosquitoes. As I've stated elsewhere, I use cedar oil products to control fleas, ticks, ants etc. But the flying critters are harder to control. I'm hoping the Buhach does the trick. It would be nice to be able to sit outside and read a book, which is impossible now. Between the cedar oil and the Buhach, I should be one happy puppy!

bill goodrich
6/15/2011 9:13:10 AM

Your skin may become sensitized to Calamine lotion if used for an extended period of time.

6/15/2011 8:35:07 AM

This article is a little behind the times. The horse vaccination is now a single yearly booster after the intial double dose and is good for a year. There are several companies who offer a reliable vaccination. Check with your vet.

mother earth news fair


Oct. 21-22, 2017
Topeka, KS.

More than 150 workshops, great deals from more than 200 exhibitors, off-stage demos, inspirational keynotes, and great food!