First your mother abandons you in any pool of water she happens to come across. This could be a large quantity such as a pond or swimming pool, or a tiny slither of rainwater collected in an upturned bin lid. The first lottery of life for a mosquito is whether the body of water you find yourself in is able to sustain your many phases of growth. The chances are that your particular pool will evaporate leaving you high and dry, or a tidy human will tip your home straight down the drain once they see you and your wriggly companions swimming around.
My bird bath became the habitat to mosquito eggs over the summer and fortunately for these particular mossies I tipped them out into the accidental pond and provided them with some weed to oxygenate the water. So far so good.
Accidental pond with the weed.
If you manage to find yourself in a plentiful supply of undisturbed water you then you will need to shed your skin several times during the lava stage as nature didn’t know about stretch Lycra. Shedding one’s skin is always a dangerous occupation, as predators will strike when you have your proverbial pants down. I have watched the wigglers in my accidental pond gyrate from side to side in an attempt to detach themselves from their unwanted skin. Imagine a large lady removing a tight girdle and you will get the picture. On closer inspection I noticed several of these discarded skin cases floating on the water. No doubt in nature this provides sustenance for some other creature as nothing is ever wasted.
The wigglers sit up at the surface of the water and breath air through a small tube like a snorkel. If you lean too far over the surface or disturb them in any way, they dive to the bottom, but soon have to float back to the top, presumably unable to hold their breath any longer. When the accidental pond was full of wigglers this constant to-ing and fro-ing gave the impression of a 70s style lava lamp.
So if you are fortunate enough to be laid in a suitable pool of water, not be tipped out by a tidy human and discard several skins without being eaten, then you are ready to turn into a pupa. The ‘wigglers’ turn into ‘tumblers’ who now have two breathing tubes called ‘trumpets’. They spend most of their day floating at the surface but can also dive out of danger if need be. The tumbler stage lasts a relatively short time and within four days they have encased themselves in order to turn into adult mosquitoes.
I looked hard into the water in order to see these pupa cases but failed to identify any of them. If I had the patience of a wildlife camera man I would have sat there for hours until one of them hatched out, but I didn’t. Instead I just took a quick peek here and there as I hung out the washing or fed the birds. On my random visits to the accidental pond, I noticed that there were often adult mosquitoes floating dead on the surface of the water. At first I though these were brave parents sacrificing themselves in order to give their offspring a chance, but then I realised that it was most probably the newly hatched adults unable to escape from a watery grave.
At this point I finally looked up the life cycle of the mosquito and realised that when they emerged from their pupa case they needed to climb somewhere safe while their external skeleton and wings hardened. Having survived so many stages, many of my guys were falling at the final hurdle. The problem was that the tray was too deep and they had nothing but the steep sides to cling to. In order to give them a bit of a chance I tipped them out into a shallow tray and placed stones around the sides. Immediately, the number of drowned adults decreased as the emerging mosquitoes were able to climb onto a safe stone while they waited for a blow dry.
All was fine until it started to rain and the try filled with water submerging the stones. I took to bailing out the water, being very careful not to dispose of any wigglers in the process. Unable to keep up this level of attention I put the tray under the garden table; protected from rain showers, but now an ideal drinking bowl for the cat.
Once fully dry the mosquito is able to take to the air. If male they live only long enough to mate, if female they live for many days to weeks and suck blood in order to feed their eggs before laying them. You will be pleased to hear that having survived such an ordeal, they can lay more than one batch of eggs.
But your life lottery does not end when you finally earn your wings, these females will probably be zapped, sprayed or squashed in their effort to find the essential blood for the next generation. So next time you absent mindedly slap a mossie dead on your arm have a little respect for the enormously difficult journey she had to get that far.
My own mosquitoes, who fell into the lap of luxury, have nearly all morphed into adult form now. An exceptionally warm autumn has enabled them to continue their journey into adulthood throughout October. Most have left the accidental pond to make their way in the world and hopefully at least some of them will have become parents in their own right before succumbing to their final demise. So if you think that your life is tough, bear in mind that it’s not easy being a mosquito.