Most know very well what being bitten by a mosquito looks like from the perspective of seeing it land on one's arm or leg. And then potentially what the after effects of slapping it on said arm or leg looks like. But have you ever thought about what its piercing mouthpiece looks like inside your flesh as it attempts to drink your blood?
No? Well, here's just a taste filmed for a recent study as the mosquito fed on a mouse (don't worry, the mouse was under anesthesia):
National Geographic's Ed Yong on the "Not Exactly Rocket Science" blog explained that the footage above was taken by Valerie Chomet and her colleagues with the Pasteur Institute as they researched malaria.
What is surprising to some about the footage his how the mosquito's needle-like mouthpart is flexible in the flesh.
Notice how the yellow-ish colored mouthpart of the mosquito is bending among the mouse cells? (Image: YouTube screenshot)
“I was genuinely amazed to see the footage,” James Logan a mosquito researcher with London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said, according to National Geographic. “I had read that the mouthparts were mobile within the skin, but actually seeing it in real time was superb. What you assume to be a rigid structure, because it has to get into the skin like a needle, is actually flexible and fully controllable. The wonders of the insect body never cease to amaze me!”
National Geographic then goes on to explain the how the different parts -- six in total -- that compose the mosquito's piercing mouthpart work to break through and grip the skin to then allow the insect to suck the host's blood:
Four of these—a pair of mandibles and a pair of maxillae—are thin filaments that help to pierce the skin. You can see them flaring out to the side in the video. The maxillae end in toothed blades, which grip flesh as they plunge into the host. The mosquito can then push against these to drive the other mouthparts deeper.
The large central needle in the video is actually two parallel tubes—the hypopharynx, which sends saliva down, and the labrum, which pumps blood back up. When a mosquito finds a host, these mouthparts probe around for a blood vessel. They often take several attempts, and a couple of minutes, to find one. And unexpectedly, around half of the ones that Choumet tested failed to do so. While they could all bite, it seemed that many suck at sucking.
Perhaps a little more than you might have ever wanted to know about what happens when a mosquito bites but the video at least provide what Yong calls a "stunning" look at the process.
Here's one more video showing what the mosquito mouthpart looks like after it has found a blood vessel on which to feed: