After a Nice Hot Blood Lunch, Mosquitoes Go Into Shock

By Veronique Greenwood | April 26, 2011 2:06 pm


What’s the News: When mosquitoes finish a piping-hot meal of blood, they have more than your average postprandial snooze, biologists have found: they go into heat shock, producing proteins most organisms only make when something is terribly wrong.

How the Heck:

  • A team of biologists slapped tiny temperature sensors on mosquitoes and monitored them before and after they fed on chicken blood. The skeeters’ body temperature climbed by a whopping 20 F (71.6 to 89.6 degrees) in one minute, one of the biggest temperature jumps ever recorded in a cold-blooded creature.
  • While the mosquitoes’ body temperatures were elevated, they were also producing nearly eight times the normal amount of heat shock protein 70 (Hsp70), a protein that helps keep crucial enzymes from getting denatured by the heat and usually only shows up in humans when we’re running a fever. The two effects were solely because of the meal’s temperature: they happened when the mosquitoes were fed warm saline solution and didn’t happen with cooler blood.
  • When the team knocked down production of Hsp70 and fed the mosquitoes hot blood, the females laid 25 percent fewer eggs and digestion of the blood proteins seemed to slow down, indicating that Hsp70 works to keep those processes safe from the ravages of too much heat.
  • And this process isn’t a one-species fluke: The team found that the increases in body temp and Hsp70 production held across three species of mosquitoes and the bedbug, another notorious blood-sucker.

What’s the Context: Heat shock, the production of certain proteins to preserve the structure of heat-sensitive enzymes after a temperature jump, happens in pretty much every organism. But it’s nearly always a survival response in the face of trauma like disease, drought, or stress. The fact that a variety of blood-eating insects go into heat shock on a regular basis, just as a byproduct of having lunch, is unexpected and fascinating. What else are these little suckers hiding?

Reference: Joshua B. Benoit, Giancarlo Lopez-Martinez, Kevin R. Patrick, Zachary P. Phillips, Tyler B. Krause and David L. Denlinger. Drinking a hot blood meal elicits a protective heat shock response in mosquitoes. PNAS, April 25, 2011 DOI: doi:10.1073/pnas.1105195108

Image credit: tanakawho/Flickr

  • Mothammad

    I wish they’d pass out… or combust spontaneously.

  • Justmehere

    Actually, I heard somewhere that if you flex your arm or wherever the mosquito is that the pressure from the blood flowing to that region will instantly kill the mosquito.

  • fintin

    They probably die if the host has a fever. I just wish we could find a way for mosquitos to stay away from humans.

  • Yurtdışı Eğitim

    Interesting article…Seems like every living organism has something to teach us…I hope it will be useful for producing a medicine for patients with dangerous fever situations…

  • TheCritic

    I agree yurt. That’d be good.

    I, also, hope it helps us to deal with mosquitoes and better ways to kill them.

  • byron

    now if they can find a way to make an insecticide that will keep the production down of hsp70 the world will beat a path to there door. i know i would be in line, fewer eggs mean fewer Mosquitoes.

  • Dave

    @byron:I don’t know if hindering the breeding population of mosquitoes is a good idea. for all those little menaces do to us, they play a vital role in the food chain… But some sort of insecticide that makes us seem inert and devoid of blood (a trickery of the senses beyond the common bug spray) kind of like… Mosquito camo… That’d be something.

  • Daniel J. Andrews

    Justmehere….I’m pretty sure that isn’t true. I I have tried many many times over the years (I live in Northern Canada and I’ve been bitten so many times I’ve developed an immunity (i.e. I don’t itch or swell) to pretty much all flying biting insects). Besides, they’re not tapping into a vein or artery but a capillary where there won’t be a huge surge of blood if you flex.

    I’ve also heard that if you tighten the skin around the biting skitter, it won’t be able to withdraw and will keep on filling up till it pops. Never been able to do that either….they just get away with a load of my blood no matter how tight I pull the skin.


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