Mosquitoes, family Culicidae, belong to the order Diptera, the two-winged flies. The family is a large and abundant group which occurs throughout temperate and tropical regions of the world, and well beyond the Arctic Circle. The family includes 3,540 species (see Valid Species List) classified in two subfamilies and 112 genera. The subfamily Anophelinae has three genera and Culicinae has 109 genera segregated into 11 tribes. Many species traditionally included in genera Aedes and Ochlerotatus are regarded as incertae sedis in 'Aedes' and 'Ochlerotatus' sensu auctorum.
Mosquitoes are slender, long-legged insects that are easily recognised by their long proboscis and the presence of scales on most parts of the body. Larvae are distinguished from other aquatic insects by the absence of legs, the presence of a distinct head bearing mouth brushes and antennae, a bulbous thorax that is wider than the head and abdomen, posterior anal papillae and either a pair of respiratory openings (subfamily Anophelinae) or an elongate siphon (subfamily Culicinae) borne near the end of the abdomen. Mosquitoes are usually, and most reliably, identified as final (fourth) instar larvae and adults. See Anophelinae and Culicinae.
Family Culicidae is monophyletic but deeper relationships are largely unresolved. Subfamily Anophelinae is a monophyletic lineage basal to all other Culicidae, and genus Chagasia is a monophyletic lineage basal to other Anophelinae. Subfamily Culicinae is not demonstrably monophyletic in relation to genus Toxorhynchites. Tribes Aedini, Culicini and Sabethini are monophyletic, but the monophyly of the other tribes has not been tested and their phyletic relationships are uncertain. See Harbach & Kitching (1998) and Harbach (2007).
Mosquito larvae occupy a spectrum of aquatic environments. The majority of larvae feed on suspended particulate matter and microorganisms which they extract from the water with filamentous mouth brushes. Other species are obligatory or facultative predators which capture and feed largely on the immature stages of other mosquitoes by means of modified mouth brushes or grasping mandibles or maxillae. Some larvae resort to scavenging or cannibalism when food is scarce. The larvae of most mosquitoes obtain oxygen from the atmosphere by coming to the water surface. All species of Mansonia and Coquillettidia and some species of Mimomyia obtain oxygen from the air vessels of aquatic plants, which they pierce with a specialised siphon. Aedeomyia species apparently use their enlarged antennae for respiration. Some species have greatly enlarged anal papillae that are well supplied with tracheae, and these species seldom come to the surface and probably obtain dissolved oxygen from the water.
Since mosquitoes are delicate insects, they are always found where the air is relatively cool and the humidity is high. Many species live within a few meters of the ground, whereas many forest species occur primarily in the forest canopy. Vertical distribution is largely dependent on feeding preferences. All males and the females of many species feed exclusively on plant liquids, including nectar, honeydew, fruit juices and exudates. Females of a great number of species feed on the blood of living animals, but some that normally blood feeders may produce eggs without a blood meal. Warm-blooded vertebrates are a common source of blood for most species, but many species also attack cold-blooded animals such as snakes, turtles, toads, frogs, and other insects, including nymphal cicadas, lepidopterous larvae and mantids. The time of flight and feeding activity is usually quite specific for most species. Some species are active at night (nocturnal) or twilight (crepuscular) while others are active during the daylight hours (diurnal).
Mosquitoes are important because the females of many species are bloodsucking, they annoy humans and other animals, and they may transmit the pathogens that cause human and animal diseases. The pathogens transmitted by mosquitoes include viruses (arboviruses), filarial worms (helminths) and protozoa. Mosquitoes are the indirect cause of more morbidity and mortality among humans that any other group of organisms.
Culicidae is a large and abundant group that occurs throughout temperate and tropical regions of the world, and well beyond the Arctic Circle. Mosquitoes are most diverse in tropical forest environments.
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