I really resent acting as a blood donor for a mosquito mommy, but was thrilled to discover that sipping my hot blood gives her a little stress too. Her tiny little body has to handle the heat.
Hot food burns………..
As humans, we wait until the food has reached a temperature that doesn’t burn. But for any insect feeding off a warm-blooded host, waiting until it cooled down sufficiently, would limit your options to eating off corpses. Not a recipe for biological success.
So insects that munch on warm-blooded mammals have had to make a plan and each meal is a high risk operation.
The high risk operation
First challenge is to find something to eat (maybe not such a challenge in some neighbourhoods).
Once you’ve found a suitable victim – there needs to be a stealthy approach to avoid early detection. Detection may simply be an opportunity lost, as the victim performs evasive manoeuvres, but could require some fancy flight work. Buzzing beyond the reach of the slap and / or the bug spray is imperative to avoid being squished or gassed.
When the approach is made – success requires drilling through layers, to get to the blood vessels. On some occasions the layers can be juicy and tender, but often the skin is like old leather and covered in hair / fur.
But the cherry on the top, is as you penetrate the blood vessel and the blood begins to fill up your empty belly, the temperature difference means in an instant you go from being around room temperature to “hot”, very hot.
The temperature rise
Researchers at Ohio State University tracked just how “hot” it gets, when they placed sensors on a female Aedes aegypti mosquito (this girl carries yellow fever, not malaria).
The researchers were a bit chicken about donating to their female mosquito, so she took her meal on a chicken, not a human subject. The insects’ body temperature increased from 22 to 32°C within a minute (a world record). She was able to bring her body temperature to room temperature within a few minutes.
Heat shock proteins
The sudden rise in temperature produced a stress response which saw her release eight times more Hsp70 (heat shock protein 70), within an hour of the feeding. The levels of this protein remained elevated for a further 12 hours.
Hot temperatures are stressful to us too, so heat shock proteins are not unique to mosquitos. When we have a fever, our bodies also produce them to protect our enzymes and proteins from being damaged.
When the researchers interfered with the ability of the mosquito to produce the heat shock proteins – she survived, but egg production was severely impaired. The researchers speculate that the heat damaged enzymes, resulting in serious indigestion. Less food digested, meant fewer nutrients available to produce eggs.
Food drive for hungry mosquitos
After writing this, I’m thinking maybe I should be a bit more charitable, after all they’re pinching a miniscule amount of my blood and being a mosquito obviously isn’t easy.
But alas, donating blood to mosquitos is potentially dangerous business because they often carry diseases, so being a little more philanthropic is not an option.Drinking a hot blood meal elicits a protective heat shock response in mosquitoes. PNAS (2011) 108(19): 8026-8029. Joshua B. Benoit, Giancarlo Lopez-Martinez, Kevin R. Patrick, Zachary P. Phillips, Tyler B. Krause and David L. Denlinger.
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