Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Elephant Mosquito

For some reason, most people don’t share my enthusiasm for encountering mosquitoes. Some, perhaps some in my own household, would be less than thrilled to learn that the largest of the Ohio mosquitoes was breeding right outside the back door. I feel as though I’ve returned from the jungle with King Kong and am now presenting to you the Eighth Wonder of the World the ELEPHANT MOSQUITO, Toxorhynchites rutilus septentrionalis. Don’t worry it doesn’t bite.

This one hatched in the house from a pupa I brought inside. It seemed very docile in its container, so I figured there would be no problem letting it out for a few photos. It took off and was gone. When it first became lost, I asked my wife not to smash the giant mosquito if she came across it. Maybe I shouldn’t have even mentioned it. I don’t know where it spent its time, but I managed to scoop it out of the air with this aquarium net about three hours after it escaped. The coloration on this giant is magnificent.

Elephant Mosquitoes breed in pools of water trapped in tree cavities. On rare occasions they will choose an open container as a breeding ground. Water filled tree cavities are rare most years, but this year of above average rainfall has probably produced an abundance of suitable breeding sites. As the mosquito population level increases, so does the chance that larvae will be found in the more unnatural sites. This water filled tub at the corner of the house was the nursery for one batch of mosquito giants. This species is not very common in Ohio, so it’s really a lucky find.

The Elephant Mosquito larvae are predators on aquatic insects, with a decided preference for larvae of other mosquito species. The low number of mosquito larvae in the tub was one of the things that caused me to give it a close examination. I routinely dip mosquito larvae out of the tub to feed to my son’s tropical fish and was wondering why my supply was so short. I didn’t mine losing some fish food in order to observe this super larva.

The pupae remind me of shrimp. The two projections from the back are breathing tubes that penetrate the water’s surface to provide air. Mosquitoes can utilize atmospheric oxygen which allows them to live in low oxygen aquatic environments like a puddle inside of a tree.

Some people would say that it’s because I live in a rural area that I get so much enjoyment from staring into a tub containing a dead mosquito pupa. I’ve actually been interested in mosquitoes since I was small. In third grade I brought a giant jar of mosquito larvae into the house to watch their development. Lid? Oops. Well, you learn from your experiences. It’s only fair that I got more bites than anyone else in the house.

The first scientific identification guide I ever purchased was a used copy of Mosquitoes of North America by Carpenter and LaCasse. The purchase was made in the pre-internet days when I was in High School and involved a lot of by-mail searching and the mailing of a check for nineteen dollars, a fortune at the time, to a used book dealer in Vermont. In that book I read of the giant Toxorhynchites mosquito and knew that my life wouldn’t be complete without actually seeing a live specimen. Here’s the giant next to a normal sized mosquito that has been temporarily stunned by a gentle tap on the head.

Three hours lost in the house followed by a grueling photo shoot left the big guy rather weary. The adult Elephant Mosquito is a day flying species that feeds on nectar, so I offered a restorative drink of sugar water. His condition was much improved after the meal.

10 comments:

  1. Sometimes I wonder Steve if you have gone over the deep end....but then I realize he is just a guy who has great curosity and interest in the world around him!! ; }
    "Very interesting" as Maxwell Smart would say...and I am very happy to learn that it doesn't bite and suck blood for at his size I probably would have to go for a tranfusion!! : }

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  2. Well, grammie g, I don't think I'm any crazier than anyone else that acts like me. I've got plans to make an artificial water holding tree hole, so I can attract more of these mosquitoes.

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  3. ...I'm trying to embrace my inner mosquito, but the willies keep getting in they way, but....I have become a snake lover and full appreciate all their wonders. This huge mosquito can't be too far behind!

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  4. Thanks for introducing me to Elephant Mosquitoes. I can't believe I didn't even know they existed. Such a deprived life I lead.

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  5. Yesterday morning while coming to work there was this huge bug buzzing around my head and in my ear. I had to pull over and stop to swat it so I wouldn't have an accident. Then I read your blog and found out it probably was an Elephant Mosquito - made me sorry I killed it. I learn so much from your blog.

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  6. Kelly – It’s not the looks of this mosquito that’s hard to get used to. It’s the sound. It’s hard to see when it’s in the air, but you can hear it 30 feet away. When it comes close, you’re sure you’ve had it.

    Hi, Marvin. The Missouri Ozarks are in the northern part of this species’ range, so there’s a chance you’ll find one in your back yard. I hope so.

    Thanks, Mel. I’m glad you’re one of those who pull over before chasing a bug around the car.

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  7. I'm with Marvin - never heard of this beast. Hope I get to see one someday.

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  8. Wellll, I'm glad I'm not where those monsters are these days. ;) We don't see too many mosquitoes out at sea. But, back home near where you live, I am glad we have very large goldfish in our pond to eat very large mosquitoes before they can fly. ;)

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  9. woow this s really crazy but i had a lot of fun here. Im so happy to be here with you. Thanks to you all.

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  10. Welcome mwsallam. I'm glad you enjoyed yourself.

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