Mosquitoes spread their wings when it comes to egg-laying options – study

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Researchers studying mosquitoes in the genus Culex, subgenus Melanoconion, found considerable diversity in egg-laying behaviors, suggesting that the laying of eggs as a "raft" on the surface of standing water may be an over-generalization. Images: Nathan Burkett-Cadena
Researchers studying mosquitoes in the genus Culex, subgenus Melanoconion, found considerable diversity in egg-laying behaviors, suggesting that the laying of eggs as a “raft” on the surface of standing water may be an over-generalization. Images: Nathan Burkett-Cadena

Horse owners have long been schooled on the risks of disease-carrying mosquitoes breeding in standing water, but American researchers now say the picture appears to be more complex.

Research into a diverse group of mosquitoes shows that many, if not most, regularly lay their eggs on a variety of surfaces, and in a surprising location: above nearby water.

These findings run counter to scientific generalizations about mosquitoes’ egg-laying habits and may complicate the work of researchers and mosquito control professionals.

Researchers at the University of Florida, in a study to be published in the Entomological Society of America’s Journal of Medical Entomology, have shown that several species of mosquitoes in the genus Culex, subgenus Melanoconion, lay their eggs on surfaces above standing water, contrary to the behavior of other Culex.

“Our findings show us that even the most classic paradigms in medical entomology need to be closely scrutinized,” says study co-author Nathan Burkett-Cadena, assistant professor at the university’s Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory.

The mosquito species Culex pipiens, for instance, has been well studied due to its prominent role in transmission of human pathogens such as West Nile virus.

The focus on C. pipiens and related mosquitoes has resulted in an apparent over-generalization that laying of eggs as a “raft” on the surface of standing water is common across all Culex species.

The University of Florida researchers’ examination of species in the subgenus Melanoconion, along with a review of historical research on other Culex species, suggest that “the generalized floating egg raft strategy does not apply to the vast majority of Culex species,” they wrote.

The mosquitoes egg-laying behaviors were studied with a laboratory setup in which female mosquitoes were placed in screened cages with dishes containing both standing water and partially submerged objects, such as a terra cotta or segments of mangrove roots. The researches then recorded where the mosquitoes laid their eggs. Surprisingly, most egg clusters were laid on surfaces of the terra cotta and roots, not on open water, as textbooks would have predicted.

Mosquito species in subgenus Melanoconion are known vectors of eastern equine encephalitis and Venezuelan equine encephalitis.

A clearer understanding of their egg-laying habits will help mosquito control professionals better target them, though Burkett-Cadena says they may “find it challenging to reach their targets due to the odd oviposition of the mosquitoes.”

“Oviposition Strategies of Florida Culex (Melanoconion) Mosquitoes,” by Erik M. Blosser and Nathan D. Burkett-Cadena, was published online on April 11 in the Journal of Medical Entomology.

A Culex species mosquito. Photo: Muhammad Mahdi Karim <a href="http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.htm" target="_blank"><span style="text-decoration: underline;">GFDL 1.2</span></a> via Wikimedia Commons<br /> http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.htmA Culex species mosquito. Photo: Muhammad Mahdi Karim GFDL 1.2 via Wikimedia Commons<br /> <br />
A Culex species mosquito. Photo: Muhammad Mahdi Karim GFDL 1.2 via Wikimedia Commons
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