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Sick cicada?

August 5, 2011

I thought mosquitos were adapted to suck blood from larger animals (vertebrates). I was wrong!

One early morning at daybreak I staggered out with my son. Passing the bathroom I saw a huge cicada and a little insect buzzing around him. My son did his morning toilet and went off to granny, and I took a closer look at the cicada. Really – a mosquito was tormenting him. I ran off to get my camera, wondering if there are mosquitos specialized in insects? The mosquito was still there and so I got some time to take photographs. It seemed the mosquito was probing the cicada, and I guessed me sitting 30 cm away with a larger body radiating sweat, CO2 and heat would make the mosquito change target – but no! That seemed like an adaptation to insects, as the cicada was probably not hotter than the surrounding air. It also seemed that the mosquito dived in between the chitin plates, an obvious place. Insects do not have blood like us, but they have haemolymph, a liquid surrounding the internal organs. This haemolymph is as nutrient rich as any blood.

Does it have any significance to know that cicadas can be affected by mosquitos? During the second world war more Australian soldiers died from tsutsugamushi fever than from Japanese bullets. Thanks to the Australian pediatrician Ron Southcott (a mentor of mine when I was a teenager) who made his service in New Guinea, science learnt that mites spread the disease from rodents to man. This knowledge is as important as any military intelligence to defeat your enemy.

The observation of mosquitos on cicadas makes me think: plant virus – plant – cicada – mosquito – are there other vectors and hosts in the chain? Viruses may jump from duck to pig to man, and rhabdo viruses spread between most mammals. Viruses highjack cells and make them produce viruses instead of cell proteins. They may rearrange the host’s DNA, and may even bring some DNA from one host and incorporate it into another species. This phenomenon of natural GMO (genetically modified organisms) may have occurred since the first bacteria, and may have contributed to leaps in evolution. Some human diseases originate in rodents, cats and snails, and maybe there are reservoirs in seemingly harmless insects too?

A real scientist would have collected both cicada and mosquito and spent time investigating it. I am just a gardener, but if any entomologist is curious feel free to visit Dokmai Garden and make some studies.

The mosquito is unfortunately out of focus but is seen to the left on the head. The bright rubies are two of the three ocelli (eyespots).

The mosquito finally found a good spot and dived in. The giant cicada (Megapomponia sp.) is among the largest cicadas in the world (head-body 7 cm, head-wing tips 10 cm). August 2nd, 2011, about 7 am.

P.S. I have updated my blog on the endangered ‘Echo of Paradise’ tree – possible seedlings!

Text & Photo: Eric Danell

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 6, 2011 8:53 AM

    Great story and wonderful photos, Eric. I guess mosquitos are equal opportunity suckers. GREAT BLOG!!!! Keep them coming…..

    • August 6, 2011 10:52 AM

      Thanks for your encouraging comment! It gets a bit lonely here in the rainy season so cyber friends are good to have. Personally I think the rainy season is more interesting than the cold season, because now we have full activity in the forests, including cicada-sucking mosquitos.

      Eric

  2. August 8, 2011 1:32 PM

    I saw another mosquito penetrating a folded green leaf to suck from the larva inside. Amazing, I have never observed this before, and now when I am aware of the phenomenon it seems common. I did not want to disturb the mosquito, as I hoped it would kill the larva that infested a Cassia fistula. It was not the common black and white Aedes aegypti mosquito, but another more dull species.

    Eric

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