The lowly mosquito may be humankind’s most worthy nemesis.
More than 3,500 different species exist to bite us and suck our blood for survival. As if that weren’t enough, many also transmit debilitating — and often deadly — diseases.
We couldn’t possibly catalogue the thousands of species of mosquitoes. But here are six you need to know about — including one, Aedes vexans, that is extremely common, but (exhale!) mostly harmless and another (Anopheles) that is actually a genus (including hundreds of species):
Malaria alone infected 214 million people in 2015, causing 438,000 deaths. Not one but 40 different species of mosquitoes can transmit malaria, which is actually spread by a tiny parasite that infects female mosquitoes in the Anopheles group.
And the Zika virus, spread primarily by the Aedes aegypti species (though also by Aedes albopictus), has captured the world’s attention as it spreads across much of South and Central America. It’s been linked to birth defects, though scientists are still trying to confirm that connection.
Encephalitis, though rarer, is another potentially disastrous result of a mosquito bite. It’s defined as an infection of the brain. Several viruses that are transmitted by an infected mosquito can cause this disease, which often manifests as flu-like but can lead to more serious issues like seizures or paralysis.