Aerial Assault

Pull on your long pants, put on a long sleeved shirt and douse yourself in bug spray. We are entering the bug season.

As summer approaches, we find ourselves preparing for a relentless aerial assault of flying insects. Pesky battalions of bugs take aim at our skin, causing fear and fury, as well as irritation and discomfort.

Mosquitoes, horseflies and midges are among the many annoying pests we encounter when we venture outdoors. The best defense against having our summer days spoiled by these insects is to learn their behaviors and habitats—and what you can do to avoid getting bit.

Skeeters

Mosquitoes are on everyone's not-very-nice list. These small, flying insects are actually a type of fly. Mosquitoes normally feed on plant nectar, but the females need a blood meal before they can lay fertile eggs. The females are alerted to potential blood donors primarily by movement, heat, odor and exhaled carbon dioxide.

When a female mosquito finds a victim, she pierces its skin with her long, thin proboscis—or nose. The female's saliva eases penetration and keeps the victim's blood from clotting. She draws blood out as if through a straw, filling her abdomen. If you watch, you can see her abdomen become reddish as she feeds. Males have smaller mouthparts and aren't able to bite.

Missouri is home to about 50 different species of mosquito, but all of them have similar life cycles, developing through egg, larva, pupa and adult. The egg, larval and pupal stages are spent in pools of standing water before an adult mosquito emerges.

Most mosquitoes only live a few weeks as adults, so you'll experience several generations through a Missouri summer. Some mosquitoes survive through winter as adults, eggs or larvae.

A mosquito bite results in a wheal, a small swelling mound, that itches. The swelling and the itchiness persist until our immune system breaks down proteins in the mosquito's saliva.

Worldwide, mosquitoes are a major transmitter of diseases, including malaria, yellow and dengue fever and encephalitis. They also transmit diseases to dogs, birds, horses and other animals.

When mosquitoes are annoying us, it's hard to think of them as beneficial, but mosquitoes do pollinate flowers and provide food for bats, turtles, fish and birds.

It's still okay to swat them, though.

Horse and Deer Flies

The bite of these pesky critters can make you feel like you've been kicked by a horse. As is the case with mosquitoes, only the females seek blood. Males drink plant liquids,