The common house mosquito in California (Culex pipiens) can transmit West Nile virus by biting infected birds, then biting humans. (Josh Cassidy/KQED)
Seen up close, the anatomy of a mosquito bite is terrifying. The most dangerous animal in the world uses six needle-like mouthparts to saw into our skin, tap a blood vessel and sometimes leave a dangerous parting gift.
Scientists have discovered that the mosquito’s mouth, called a proboscis isn’t just one tiny spear. It’s a sophisticated system of thin needles, each of which pierces the skin, finds blood vessels and makes it easy for mosquitoes to suck blood out of them.
Male mosquitoes don’t bite us, but when a female mosquito pierces the skin, a flexible lip-like sheath called the labium scrolls up and stays outside as she pushes in six needle-like parts that scientists refer to as stylets.
Two of these needles, called maxillae, have tiny teeth. The mosquito uses them to saw through the skin. They’re so sharp you can barely feel the mosquito biting you.
DEEP LOOK is a ultra-HD (4K) short video series created by KQED San Francisco and presented by PBS Digital Studios. Explore big scientific mysteries by going incredibly small.