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1. Only some like it hot

1. Only some like it hot
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Mosquitoes thrive in warm conditions. The larvae develop in summer months, although in tropical areas it can be warm enough for a year-round season.

Mosquitoes are incredibly sensitive to the environment. The developing larvae can easily be killed off if they are subjected to cold or dry conditions at the wrong time. But according to Dr Cameron Webb, a medical entomologist from Sydney University, we shouldn’t underestimate the not-so-humble mozzie. “I’ve been standing out in the Victorian coastal wetlands in a thick parka and freezing weather and still been bitten,” he reveals. “Mosquitoes are highly specialised creatures and different species have evolved to master different environmental niches.”

Some mosquitoes prefer to live in cold climates, and thrive there, too. Mosquitoes near alpine and other cooler regions might reproduce a little more slowly than others but compensate for this by being abundant in number. “They might have fewer generations each year but there are so many of them that their survival in extreme climates is guaranteed,” says Dr Webb. “Plus, even their eggs survive the depths of winter buried underneath the snow in alpine regions or in freezing coastal wetlands.”

Do you mostly get bitten on your hands and feet, or underarms and hip? Different mosquitoes prefer different smells from different parts of the body.

2. Water, water everywhere

2. Water, water everywhere
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Whatever the body of water, from salty rockpools, mangroves, and rivers, to dirty septic tanks, polluted drains and backed-up gutters, with the exception of the open ocean, a mosquito will have tracked it down and made a nursery for the next generation. That’s because they need water for their survival, spending the entire first half of their short life in aquatic environments.

Just the sheer amount of water that comes with summertime wet seasons makes it a boon time for mozzie populations. But as a highly adaptable bunch of little critters, some mozzies prefer their homes to fill with water and then dry out, which takes away the threat of predators, such as fish, while their eggs can happily wait in the mud for the next input.

3. Extreme weather

3. Extreme weather
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And then there are those that go crazy after extreme weather events. Big tides up and down coastal regions pretty much ensure an outbreak of mosquito-borne diseases every time they occur. Flooding after heavy rains also provide ideal conditions for the resilient local residents, whose eggs have been waiting patiently for even as much as a decade between big weather events to take advantage of the water and, 10 days later, cause a population explosion. This was the case in Victoria in 2017 when an outbreak of Ross River virus ocurred across the state, particularly around the Murray Darling basin, on the backs of enormous floods that summer.

4. Dried out but not died out

4. Dried out but not died out
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You’d think that in the midst of long, dry summers, this would create a problem for making new generations of mosquitoes. But no, there’s no reprieve. “If there’s a remote chance that something will fill up with water, there’ll be a mozzie who will find it and lay eggs,” says Dr Webb. “It doesn’t matter how hot it gets, there will be a mozzie who will like to live in dry conditions.”

While open desert might present few opportunities for mosquitoes, dry conditions help concentrate mosquitoes close to people, so towns in remote areas will still be able to say hello to a mosquito. Any place where people are using and storing water, such as a water tank, you’ll find mosquitoes ready to make it their home, and by extension increase the risk for mosquito-borne disease.

Drought conditions also do not deter mozzies. Mosquito eggs can wait for years, even over a decade, for the right conditions to come along and spring back into life. The big floods in 2011-12 stretching from western Queensland, NSW and into Victoria brought a massive explosion in mosquito numbers. “There was no biological explanation for it other than trillions of eggs were silently waiting for the water to arrive. This is just another example of their extraordinary adaptability.”

So the mozzie lives to fight another day.

5. Inside quarters

5. Inside quarters
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Have you ever seen a mosquito at your local shopping mall? In the library? Or at work?

If you leave a vase of flowers on your table for long enough, it will attract mosquitoes. Of course – it is a water source after all. However, the good news is that in general mosquitoes don’t like to lay their eggs inside and have a better opportunity to find the right breeding site outdoors. While there is ample availability of a potential food source – your blood – it is difficult to navigate the way in and out. Most windows in these environments are also sealed, creating a physical barrier.

Phew, some relief at last.

6. Pools, ponds and flower pots

6. Pools, ponds and flower pots
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Generally, where there are people, there is water. The move of mosquitoes into cities is a logical progression for these evolutionary marvels.

Of course, humans have built into traditional mosquito territory, such as near to the mangroves along the Georges, Parramatta and Hawkesbury rivers of Sydney. But the suburban backyard provides a nice little home away from home for many mosquitoes.

Unscreened water tanks, bird baths, blocked gutters, still ponds, pet water bowls, half-filled watering cans, flower pot saucers, any receptacle left lying around that partially fills with rainwater – any source of stagnant water is an excellent breeding ground for the pesky critters.

To eliminate stagnant water around your home, make sure gutters and drains are free flowing, flush out bird baths once a week, add pumps to ponds, and fill your pot saucers with sand – this traps moisture for your plants but removes open water.

Frequently change the water in your pet’s bowl – while swallowing a little bit of larvae won’t hurt them (however yucky it may seem), pets are just as vulnerable to mosquito bites as humans. Mosquitoes can cause intense skin irritations and potentially transmit heartworm.

Another good way to keep backyard mosquito numbers at bay is to encourage small native birds, frogs, bats, other native insects, and include native fish in your pond. Your mosquitoes will provide a nice little snack for them and help keep your little patch of ecology in a healthy equilibrium.

While a chlorinated and filtered swimming pool is unlikely to attract mosquitoes, one neglected over winter can quickly be taken over by mosquitoes before you’ve got around to cleaning it for the warmer weather. “This was a real problem in California during the Global Financial Crisis of 2008,” warns Dr Webb. “Many empty pools filled with rainwater and led to an outbreak of West Nile disease.”

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7. Blood, sweat and fear

7. Blood, sweat and fear
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There are some mosquitoes that prefer to feed on wildlife, even some that go exclusively for frogs, and then there are those that have a taste for human blood. The Yellow Fever mosquito of Far North Queensland, for example, loves to feed on people and has developed an evolutionary trick for biting around the lower legs and ankles where it is harder for their host to swat them away.

It’s actually only the female mosquito that is after a blood feed, the vegetarian males only drink nectar. So, the next time you feel that familiar sting, you can bet she’s on the hunt for a protein boost for her egg cargo. Yes, that means there’s a little bit of you in the next generation to hatch.

As Dr Webb explains, some will fill up a whole feed in one go, while others have found it easier to avoid being swatted by an indignant human if they go in for lots of little feeds. If you find you’re the chosen one for a mosquito banquet, you’re probably being bitten multiple times by multiple mosquitoes, but you’re also probably not the only one. The next person along will also have been bitten, it’s just that they may not react as much, and the mosquito might just like you a little bit more.

Mmm, tasty.

8. Smelly skin and stunning stripes

8. Smelly skin and stunning stripes
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Actually, it’s not really your blood that mosquitoes are attracted to – it’s the carbon dioxide you breathe out. It acts as a catch-all lure to tell a passing mosquito that there is a potential blood feed nearby. Only when they get up close and smell your skin do they decide if they want to feed on you. And here, some will be picky feeders, selecting the bacteria and sweat smells they like, and some will go for anything that moves.

If you’re the chosen one, then cover up. You’re more likely to be bitten at your local sports field where you’ve stripped off a few layers on a hot day, exposing more smelly smells, than, say, under the cover of a grandstand.

Loose, light-coloured clothing is the way to go, says Dr Webb, as tight dark-coloured clothing, particularly navy blue, makes you resemble a large animal. Next time you’re leaving the gym at sunset, it’s a good idea to change out of your lycra active wear.

“Of course, the best deterrent seems to be dressing in zebra stripes – they break up the body’s outline and confuse the little critters.”

Who knew? The ultimate camouflage.

9. Barbecue blackmailers to bed-time botherers

9. Barbecue blackmailers to bed-time botherers
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There a few things more enjoyable than a good old backyard barbecue. But as you stand in the sun for hours over a sizzling steak, you’re also cooking up a sweaty feast for these insatiable insects.

What’s more, if you enjoy doing it with a drink in hand, you might go up the preference list on the mozzie menu. Studies in Africa have found that drinking beer can make a person more attractive to mosquitos. However, that doesn’t mean that staying off the booze will keep you from getting bitten. And while there’s intel that eating garlic or a bunch of other foods could alter the way your skin smells, in fact it isn’t enough difference to overcome your genetic attractiveness.

Your best bet to fend off the bites at a bbq is to wear good old-fashioned insect repellent, containing either picaridin or DEET, on all exposed skin.

And for that nuisance noise at night-time, whose sole purpose seems to be to keep us awake? Try turning on a fan, which is off-putting for these weak fliers. A quick shower before bed will also provide temporarily relief, until your skin gets sweaty enough to be a lure again. Wear full-length pyjamas, and close that window.

10. The serious side

10. The serious side
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No, it’s not the shark, the snake or the spider that you need to be most wary of. The World Health Organisation has called the mosquito the world’s deadliest creature. Mosquitoes are harbingers of disease. Tens of thousands of people are infected with the debilitating Ross River Virus every year. Around the world, mosquitoes are responsible for the spread of the Zika, dengue and yellow fevers, as well as the deaths of nearly half a million people every year through malaria alone.

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Please be advised that due to the current lockdown in the Philippines, we hope to have the April print issue available by the middle of July, and the May, June and July issues available by the end of July, but this is dependent on when local lockdown restrictions are lifted. We sincerely apologise for this inconvenience. Thank you and stay safe!
– The Reader’s Digest team