To me, the universe is a piece of art and even when you grab a little piece of that universe and study it, that little piece is its own work of art. Today, I want share with you one of God’s less appreciated pieces of art. In the picture below is a one of those pieces.
This pretty, fuzzy mosquito with slightly iridescent blue legs and white toes is a species called Psorophora (soar-OFF-era) ferox. That’s right, I said species of mosquito. There are many, many species of mosquitoes- 59 in PA, where I live, and thousands of others in the world. Each species has its own particular behaviors, habitats, and physical characteristics. Some are purple. Some are black with white stripes. Some are red. Some are brown. Some live in saltmarshes. Some live in pristine wetlands and feed on flowers and frogs. Some only lay their eggs in the hollows beneath tree roots in acidic bogs. Some only lay their eggs in the water found in pitcher plants. Some can fly for tens of miles while others can only fly a few yards from their birthplace. Some eat other larval mosquitoes while larvae and are strict vegetarians as adults. I believe mosquitoes, which are my area of interest as an entomologist, show how wonderful and awesome God is as a creator.
Let me start with their life cycle. I’m sure you have not heard life cycle and glory of God in the same sentence, but humor me, and let’s follow the rabbit hole. Mosquito eggs are commonly laid directly on the water, while the mother rests on the surface tension.
She walks on water for her children, braving any sort of predator that may be lurking below. Some species are able to detect where there will likely be flooding and lay their eggs on dry land. The eggs are very hardy and can lay dormant for months or years, waiting for just the right flooding event. Mosquitoes, like butterflies, beetles, and dragonflies, undergo metamorphosis. They begin life as larvae.
The beauty of having such different forms for juveniles and adults is that the young mosquitoes and the adult mosquitoes each have separate food and habitat requirements. They never have to compete with each other for resources, allowing for larger populations. Larval mosquitoes (see video http://youtu.be/L4Epg0MYGWw?t=10s) live in water. There most species, including ferox, feed on the bacteria and decaying plant matter. A few are predators, eating other mosquito larvae. They are very wary little creatures, always looking for predators. If you were to let your shadow pass over the water, they would all scatter and dive towards the bottom. Now why were they all at the surface of the water to begin with? Because mosquitoes breathe air, even in their aquatic form.
About breathing: mosquitoes do not have lungs and they do not carry oxygen about their body in their blood (they do not have a circulatory system either). Instead they have a series of hollow tubes opening onto the surface of the body, leading inside and branching into every part, allowing them to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide with the outside air, without expending the energy needed for breathing or having the easily damaged lungs and heart that we must so carefully protect.
This passive exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide is also what keeps mosquitoes and other insects small- only so much oxygen can work its way in there. (It is believed that those giant, 3 food dragonflies and other large insects found in fossils were the result of higher oxygen contents in the air at the time, allowing for larger insects) Mosquito larvae take in oxygen through a single large breathing hole located at the very posterior end of the insect. I like to say they breathe through their butts. Most species have this breathing hole located at the end of a snorkel-like structure. This allows the larvae to feed head down, ready to swim down at danger and keeping their mouth farther down in the water where they can get more food. A few species have a “snorkel” that is very sharp and it will pierce cattails and other such plants, using them as extended snorkels so it can stay hidden underwater and next to cover while it breathes.
Emerging as adults from the water:
Mosquitoes are largely vegetarian. You heard that right. The needle-like mouths we hate so much are also perfect for reaching nectar in flowers. Their primary food is flower nectar and they are pollinators. So on a day to day basis, mosquitoes (males and females) are softly alighting on flowers, drinking nectar, and spreading pollen from one flower to another, allowing those plants to create seeds and fruit, and thus feeding other animals and us.
Blood-feeding is a high-risk activity, very dangerous for the mosquito. The only reason a mosquito eats blood is for the energy needed to lay their eggs. The mosquito biting you is a mother and most mothers (and people who know mothers) who are reading this can identify with the extreme energy demands pregnancy puts on the body. The mosquito is just trying to get one good protein-rich meal to fuel her body for pregnancy. I think we need a little sympathy for the mosquito here. When blood-feeding, the mosquito uses a group of 4 mouthparts that fit together to form a hypodermic needle-like “proboscis”. This highly specialized apparatus is kept sheathed most of the time, with that sheath sliding out of the way when needed. The 4 mouthparts slide up and down a bit, helping the proboscis slide into the skin and it can bend to follow a tiny blood vessel. The mosquito then injects anti-coagulants to thin the blood and make it easier to withdrawal. It is this anti-coagulant that most people are allergic to and causes the itching.
Mosquitoes have incredible senses. They can smell the carbon dioxide you breathe out and that exudes from your skin and a mosquito can follow that smell to find her blood meal. Not only that, she can identify the animal producing that carbon dioxide based on the other scents mixed in with it and will specifically look for certain animals, depending on the species of mosquito. Mothers can also smell the scents of some predators as she hovers over the water and will avoid laying eggs in that water.
Their sense of direction is an amazing thing too. All insects, if they have wings, have 2 pairs of wings. A mosquito’s second pair of wings have been modified. They are shrunk down into little nubs called halteres (see picture). These halteres beat very quickly and the inertia they generate allows them to act like gyroscopes do in aircraft, giving the mosquito a constant sense of direction in flight for when a gust of wind or a raindrop spins them around.
We live in a fallen world, warped by our own sinfulness. Because of this every good thing has been marred and this includes mosquitoes. This beautiful, intricate and delicate creature is also the world’s deadliest. As mosquitoes inject saliva to obtain blood to become mothers, they can also inject diseases (which are also sickening the mosquitoes as well) such as the microorganisms that cause malaria, microscopic worms that cause dog heartworm or elephantiasis, or viruses that cause dengue or yellow fever. These diseases kill millions of people each year and sicken hundreds of millions more, keeping whole people-groups mired in poverty and suffering with disease.
Yet in through the destruction to art brought by sin, we still see the beauty and the genius of the Artist. I hope this short foray into the piece of art called mosquitoes helps you to see that beauty and that you will take the time to look for the artistry in the rest of the universe, whatever it may be.