I remember the first time I noticed one of these a few years ago…my reaction probably included a statement or two like Holy $%*^!! Look at the size of that thing! I had heard a few people make remarks like this about Crane Flies, which are not mosquitoes, but are sometimes mistaken for giant blood-suckers. But this really was a mosquito, and a really big one at that. The other thing I noticed that day was how beautiful it was – the very long legs, long proboscis, and the iridescent colors and stripes combined to make an elegant insect.
My giant bug turned out to be the aptly named Elephant Mosquito, Toxorhynchites rutilus. It is our largest species of mosquito, with a wingspan reaching almost 1/2 inch. Unlike most mosquitoes, both male AND female adults feed on nectar, not blood, as most female mosquitoes of other species do. Male Elephant Mosquitoes, like the one pictured above, have very feathery antennae which they use to track the females.
Elephant Mosquitoes lay their eggs in small bodies of water like knot holes in trees (hence their other common name, Treehole Mosquito), bird baths, and other man-made containers. Unlike other mosquito species, the larvae of Elephant Mosquitoes are predators on other aquatic insects, especially the larvae of other species of mosquitoes. A single Toxorhynchites larva is said to be able to consume up to 400 larvae of other mosquitoes so they even have been reared and released as biological controls in some areas.
So, before you swat, take a moment and see if that giant mosquito is iridescent blue and is sipping nectar…if so, leave it alone, it is your friend.