Insecta Order Diptera
Flies are a large and extremely diverse group of insects, exploiting a variety of different habitats and food types.
Flies are the only insects to have a single pair of wings – all other groups of winged insects have 2 pairs. Instead, flies have taken their hind wings and reduced them down to a tiny pair of hairs that act like rudders, helping them to steer as they fly.
Flies have large, highly developed compound eyes to help them navigate as they zoom through the air. Their bodies are often covered in sensitive hairs known as setae to help them detect their surroundings.
The species that are of most concern to humans are those that drink our blood. Mosquitoes and biting midges are among the worst offenders, inflicting itchy, irritating bites with the potential to transmit nasty diseases.
Biting midges are also referred to as sand flies. They are usually dark in colour and are tiny, with an overall length of just 1-3 millimeters. They have earned the nickname “no-see-ums” – due to their tiny size, we often don’t notice them until they start feasting on our blood.
Mosquitoes are much larger and more obvious. They have long, scaly bodies between 3-9 millimeters in length. They come in a range of colours and often have elaborate stripes and bands on their legs and bodies.
Flies have a complete lifecycle, starting off as a larva before entering a pupa and emerging as an adult.
Mosquitoes lay their eggs in small rafts on the surface of water and along the edges of aquatic habitats. The larvae are referred to as “wrigglers” due to their jerky movements through the water. The larvae have a tiny siphon at the end of their abdomen which is used to suck air from the surface. They form tiny, comma-shaped pupae just under the water’s surface. The adult mosquitoes emerge, balancing on the top of the water with their long legs while they wait for their wings to dry.
The larvae of midges also prefer wet or damp habitats and can be found on the edges of streams and marshes, in wet soil and compost.
Mosquitoes and biting midges are world-wide pests. There are thousands of different species, each favouring a particular larval habitat.
In Australia, midges and mosquitoes are at their worst in coastal areas, where frequent rainfall and extensive waterways provides an abundance of larval habitats.
Mosquitoes can utilise almost any body of water to lay their eggs in, from the brackish water in wetlands and marshes, to the tiny pools of water that collect in tree hollows and the leaves of bromeliads.
It is only the adult female mosquitoes and midges that bite. Females require protein from a blood meal to help them grow and develop their eggs. Males don’t lay eggs and so don’t drink blood, instead feeding on nectar and plant juices.
Larvae are also harmless to humans. Mosquito wrigglers filter algae from the water, or prey on other mosquito larvae. Midge larvae feed on moss and fungi in moist environments.
The adult flies have adapted their mouthparts to assist with their blood-feeding lifestyles. Mosquitoes have a long, needle-like tube which pierces the skin & sucks up blood through a series of muscles. Midges have a sharp cutting tool, which slices into flesh, causing blood to pool on the skin. A sponge-like pad is then used to slurp it up. Both insects will bite humans and other warm-blooded animals such as dogs, rabbits, sheep and cattle.
Apart from the itchiness and irritation, mosquitoes and midges can affect your health by spreading a variety of diseases.
- World-wide: mosquitoes have been linked to the transmission of yellow fever, malaria, dengue fever, filariasis and encephalitis.
- In Australia: the most common transmission is Ross River Fever and Barmah Forest Virus. Both have similar flu-like symptoms, including joint pain, fever and often a rash.
- There is usually a yearly outbreak of dengue fever in Far North Queensland. This is a result of overseas travelers becoming infected and introducing it to our local population of mosquitoes upon returning to Australia. However, outbreaks are carefully monitored and managed and are quickly brought under control.
- Australia has been declared malaria-free since 1981. However, there is a small risk of the disease being brought into Australia by people infected overseas & spreading it through our local mosquitoes when they return.
- Japanese encephalitis and Australian or Murray Valley encephalitis can be spread by mosquitoes in Australia, however these infections are considered to be extremely rare.
- Mosquitoes and midges have also been linked to animal diseases such as myxomatosis in rabbits, dog heartworm and illnesses of cattle & livestock overseas.
- The saliva from mosquitoes and midges contains proteins that cause allergic reactions. These are generally mild, with some localized swelling, itching and redness.
- Be careful not to scratch mosquito bites – it can lead to secondary infections.
- If you begin to experience any flu-like symptoms (particularly if you have recently returned from overseas, head straight to a GP for blood tests).
Protecting yourself and your family from biting flies and the diseases they may carry can be split into two equally important strategies– avoid getting bitten and reduce available habitats for the aquatic larvae.
To avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes and biting midges:
- Take care at dawn and dusk, when these insects are most active
- Wear insect repellant when outdoors. “Tropical Strength” varieties are particularly effective. If you are in a situation where the risk of being bitten is high (i.e. when camping or bushwalking), use a stronger application that contains DEET, but take care and follow directions for application.
- Invest in fly screens for your home. If you don’t have screens, use a mosquito net over your bed while you’re sleeping.
- Odorless, plug in zappers are very useful for deterring mosquitoes indoors
- Use mosquito coils, citronella candles or bug-zappers outdoors.
- Don’t forget Fido – mosquitoes can transmit diseases such as Dog Heartworm. Keep up to date with vaccinations and monthly heart-worm control. Low irritant repellants can be applied to your dog’s coat to deter biting flies (pay particular attention to the ears). Plug-in zappers and mosquito coils can be used to deter mosquitoes from your dog’s sleeping area.
To reduce larval habitats:
- Regularly tip out and replace the water in dog’s water dishes and birdbaths, disrupting the lifecycle of aquatic larvae.
- Monitor areas where water may collect – tip out the bases of pot plants, tins, old tires and any other containers.
- Keep gutters clear of debris – leaves may block areas allowing water to collect.
- Ensure your water tank has a fine screen over any openings to prevent females from depositing eggs
- Midges breed in moist, damp soil. Water your gardens early in the morning, rather than at night. The plants will absorb the water and the sun will dry out the damp soil, reducing larval habitats.
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Our pest control specialists can advise on methods for reducing mosquitoes and biting midges in and around your home. We can deliver effective treatment options that suit your individual environment. Call us today for a quote and information on Mosquito control.
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