Watch predatory mosquitos capture their prey using their extendible necks and tails

See how predatory mosquitoes feed on larvae under a microscope
Ayesha Gulzar
Mosquito larvae
Mosquito larvae


Researchers for the time showed how mosquito larvae feed on other insects in aquatic habitats using micro cinematography. The process occurs in a fraction of a second and has been unobserved until now. Videos released with a paper published in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America reveal anatomical processes of the larval strikes of three different species of predatory mosquitoes.

Predatory mosquitoes in action

The high-speed video footage shows how two mosquito species, Toxorhynchites, and Psorophora, in their larval stage, catch prey by shooting their heads away from their bodies like harpoons and reel in their victims with a thin neck membrane. Simultaneously, it opens its mouth and snap closes on the prey upon impact.

A third species, Sabethes cyaneus, which feeds on other larvae and microorganisms (such as bacteria and algae), lacks the head-extension mechanism. Instead, it uses a swift flick of its tail to sweep prey towards its head, where the jaws again clamp down on it.

These predatory species have been a source of fascination for Robert G. Hancock, Ph.D., professor of biology at the Metropolitan State University of Denver, who led the research.

When he tried to capture the strikes in the 1990s, "it was so incredibly fast," said Hancock. "The only thing that we saw was a blur of action." Now, armed with a high-speed digital camera, the striking motion of the larvae can be seen in graphic detail. "I saw it first, and my jaw dropped, and it still does every time I watch it," he says.

In all three species in the study, both strike styles take about 15 milliseconds. Hancock says that such high speed indicates a highly developed, almost reflexive behavior called a fixed-action pattern. He compared it to the swallowing action, which involves multiple, small individual muscle actions.

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"All of this stuff has to work in concert—we all do it so automatically. And that's exactly what these mosquito larvae strikes have to be. It's a package deal," said Hancock.

Using Mosquitoes to kill mosquitoes

While all of this is fascinating and maybe a little terrifying, there is more to this research than just fancy footage. Predatory mosquitoes have been studied for their potential use in controlling other disease-causing mosquitoes. The Toxorhynchites species is of interest as it can consume as many as 5,000 prey larvae before maturing into adulthood.

As a result of that larval diet, adult Toxorhynchites and Psorophora species are among the largest mosquitoes in the world. Sabethes cyaneus are less formidable predators, but they grow into adults featuring iridescent blue coloration and broad, feather-like paddles on their legs.

Hancock concluded that this new knowledge of how predatory mosquito larvae capture prey can be a tool for "continuing to unveil mysteries of nature around us, especially in anything that's aquatic," and the videos might open people's eyes to the ecosystems living in even the smallest pools of water.

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