The mosquito has been described as the most dangerous animal in the world and the mosquito-borne disease with the greatest detrimental impact is undoubtedly malaria.
There are about 3,500 mosquito species and those that transmit malaria all belong to a sub-set called the Anopheles. Approximately 40 Anopheles species are able to transmit malaria well enough to cause significant human illness and death.
To be effective at transmitting malaria between people, a mosquito species needs to have a number of characteristics including:
- Abundance – the species needs to exist in numbers high enough to ensure individuals encounter an infectious human to pick up the malaria parasite
- Longevity – individual mosquitoes need to survive long enough after feeding on infected blood to allow the parasite time to develop and travel to the mosquito’s salivary glands ready to infect the next person bitten
- Capacity – each mosquito needs to be able to carry enough malaria parasites in the salivary glands to ensure the parasite is transmitted to the next human
- Contact with humans – the species needs to prefer to feed on humans rather than other animals, and be able to survive and breed in places close to homes, and be able to find people (usually by entering their houses)
The information that tells us whether a mosquito species is likely to be an effective carrier (vector) of the malaria parasite is its bionomics.