Aedes communis: The Pollinating Mosquito
By Zoe Statman-Weil, Pollinator Partnership
When you think of mosquitos, your mind probably wanders to itchiness, red bumps, and a feeling of frustration. Fortunately, for mosquitos, you can now add beautiful orchids to that list! Aedes communis, known by some as a snow pool mosquito, is an important pollinator of orchids in northern regions.
Aedes communis is most common in the state of New Jersey, although it can also be found throughout much of the Northern United States, Canada, and Alaska. It usually inhabits dense forests at high elevations. Its larvae are mostly found a few feet from the shore in deep snow pools, which reside at greater than 1,500 feet in elevation.
What makes us interested in this mosquito as pollinator investigators? Mosquitoes, after all, are commonly considered nuisance insects. For their eggs to successfully develop into larvae female mosquitoes must provide them with a source of protein; this protein form in the form of blood. Although all warm blooded creatures (mammals and birds) are fair game, our thin and relatively hairless human skin is especially appealing as an easy meal. When mosquitoes aren't blood feeding to support the development of healthy eggs, the adults feed off of plant nectars to fuel their flight.
In 1913, it was first determined that mosquitoes are pollinators too! In the early 1970s, scientists determined that the Aedes communis was an important pollinator of Platanthera obtusata, the blunt-leaf orchid. In fact, many mosquitoes around the world pollinator small flowers that live in wetter environments.
This snowpool mosquito eats the nectar from the floral spur of the Platanthera obtusata, during which time its eye naturally comes into contact with the pollinium, a cluster of pollen. The pollinium sticks to the mosquito's eye even when it flies away. Thus, when it eats from another flower, the pollinium touches the stigma of that flower, and the flower is pollinated!
Even though this mosquito is an important part of the propagation of this beautiful flower, that does not make them any less annoying to us when the females are looking for unwilling blood donors. Aedes commnis is mostly a bother in New York state and Pennsylvania. An appreciation for Platanthera obtusata might lessen the itch!
For Additional Information
- New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station - General Mosquito Biology
- Fang, Janet. 2010. Ecology: A world without mosquitoes. Nature 466, 432-434 doi:10.1038/466432a.