The Sabethes Mosquito Is the Showiest in the Rainforest

By: Jesslyn Shields  | 

sabethes mosquito
A Sabethes mosquito shows off its fluffy antenna and shaggy violet leg fringe. Smith Collection/Gado/Centers for Disease Control (CDC)/Getty Images

If you thought all mosquitoes looked basically the same, you were wrong. No, there are actually fancy mosquitoes.

Most of the almost 3,600 species of mosquitoes on this planet aren't much to look at — they're black or gray or brown — but there are some brightly colored ones out there. Maybe the most fabulous of the fancy-looking mosquitoes is Sabethes cyaneus, dubbed the "Hollywood showgirl of mosquitoes."

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A native of tropical South American rainforests, Sabethes sports a purple and blue iridescent body, fluffy antenna and shaggy violet leg fringe that puts one in mind of a cowgirl boot in a honky tonk bar. They seem contradictory to all the laws of aerodynamics, and yet both males and females of the species have this leg fringe. It just goes to show the mating behavior of mosquitoes is a lot more complex than anybody thought.

Mosquitoes are like birds in that the females have a lot of power to choose when it comes to mates. Male mosquitoes of most species have to put on a little show for the females in order to find a mate. The males generally swarm up around sunset and just wait around for the females to show some interest in their little nightclub. When the females arrive, the males start doing little dances — flying in loops and zigzags. When a female is impressed by a male's dance she takes off with him, they copulate and she goes to lay eggs in a cesspool. It's all very romantic.

Most female mosquitoes are a little particular about a guy's loop-de-loop dance, but Sabethes females care more than most: The males must perch on the underside of a twig and really show a lady the ol' razzle dazzle, lest she kick him with her hind legs. However, scientists have also discovered she doesn't care at all about whether he's got little legwarmers on, but the males seem to care a lot about whether the females have them — in fact, they will refuse to mate with a female not sporting ankle feathers.

Sabethes may be lovely, but will definitely bite you. They also carry tropical diseases like dengue and yellow fever. But you wouldn't mind so much if you got a mosquito-borne disease from a very beautiful mosquito, would you?

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