Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Buffalo mosquito — Culiseta inornata

Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada: Some mosquitoes are aggressive — like our current early/mid-summer Aedes vexans. Others are shy — so reluctant to bite (at least, to bite me!) that they seem gently confused.

I've sat on my back patio and watched a big brown mosquito land on my black capris and bright T-shirts, and totally ignore my exposed flesh. Left alone, it wants to feed on my dark clothes, not my pale skin. Even a whisper of a gesture, and it flies away.

And no, I don't really believe each landing is made by the same mosquito. But each one acts the same — and each is very different from Ae. vexans, which dive bombs and latches on and will not let go.

But what is this brown mosquito?

In my last post on mosquitoes, I mentioned a study on the Saskatchewan kind. Shortly after I posted, I found a Regina news story quoting Phil Curry, the entomologist who wrote that study, and so I decided to contact Phil to learn more. I mentioned the vexatious vexans, and then said:
SB: I've also seen several much shyer, larger, brown mosquitoes in the yard -- I haven't yet managed to photograph them, but they're certainly a different kind.  
Phil Curry: The big brown mosquito you are seeing is Culiseta inornata, another common prairie mosquito.
It also loves to bite mammals and evolved biting the buffalo that roamed the prairie (some people call it the buffalo mosquito).
When there are no buffalo (bison) around it switches to other large mammals - cows, horses, people, etc. It is also our most cold-hardy mosquito and can fly at lower temperatures than most other species.

I've found other names for Culiseta inornata, too. Winter mosquito. Snow mosquito. Large winter mosquito. Winter marsh mosquito. (I do not understand the conjunction of  "winter" and "mosquito". Clearly, these names come from people who do not understand that winter means cold, as in 40 degrees below. (Fahrenheit or Celsius — they merge in mutual misery by that point.)

The photo below may, or may not, be of a Buffalo mosquito. Whatever its name, it was very shy, had a blunt abdomen, and preferred dark colours, even if they were blood-free. (Although I've never seen a deep pink buffalo, either...)

Buffalo Mosquito - photo by Shelley Banks
Buffalo mosquito?       c SB 

In any case, for those who think I imagine my way through life and invent stories as I go, I would like to confirm that I was right in my identification of the Aedes vexans that bit G in my previous mosquito post

How do I know? I asked Phil Curry, and unlike me, he is an entomologist.
Phil Curry:  Good going. That is indeed Aedes vexans. You can tell from a number of identification clues, but the most common ones are the pointed abdomen (all Aedes genus female  mosquitoes have those compared to the blunt abdomens of the Culex, Culiseta, and Anopheles mosquitoes).
The other tell-tale signs are the narrow white rings on their legs and of course the basal white "B" shaped scales on their tergites — or "narrow rings of white scales down their backs".  

What a beauty —  looking a little scarier than my brown mosquito, though!

Aedes vexans mosquito - photo by Shelley Banks
Aedes vexans: Pointy belly like a ruby, glowing blood    c SB 

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