Malaria mosquitoes host-locate and feed upon caterpillars

Justin George, Simon Blanford, Matthew B. Thomas, Thomas C. Baker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Adult female mosquitoes need blood to develop their eggs and both sexes use nectar and honeydew as carbohydrate resources for flight, survival and to enhance reproduction. However, there are also a few reports in the literature of mosquitoes feeding on haemolymph of soft-bodied insects such as caterpillars. The frequency and significance of this entomophagous behavior is not well understood, but is thought to be a vestige of ancestral feeding behavior or an opportunistic behavior that has evolved over time. In our current paper we investigated the extent to which the malaria mosquito, Anopheles stephensi, is attracted to, and can successfully feed on, larvae of two common moth species, Manduca sexta and Heliothis subflexa. Using y-tube olfactometer assays we found that female An. stephensi readily flew upwind to and landed on the caterpillars of both moth species. The nature of the volatile cues used in host location remains unclear but respirometer studies suggest a possible role of CO2. Laboratory cage assays further showed that the female mosquitoes were able to actively feed on moth larvae and gain sufficient nutritional benefit to influence survival. The extent to which such an opportunistic behavior occurs in the field has yet to be explored but our results suggest that this haemolymph feeding behavior could play a role in malaria mosquito life history and could provide a novel mechanism for horizontal transmission of pathogens and other micro-organisms between hosts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere108894
JournalPloS one
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 5 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General


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