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Itch at first bite: Researchers capture unnerving video of mosquitoes feeding

A mosquito lands on your leg. It takes you a few minutes to notice, but in that time a lot has happened. Check out some amazing footage of mosquito probes breaking through skin and searching for blood vessels.

Anopheles gambiae searches for dinner.
James D. Gathany

In the dead heat of summertime here in Georgia, it's nearly impossible to walk more than 10 paces without a hungry mosquito latching onto you. Bloodcurdling footage, captured by French researchers, delivers an extremely close view of what exactly happens when a skeeter strikes -- and after watching, you may never want to go outside again.

Let's get this out of the way first: The following horrifying videos -- full of mosquito mouth parts moving in ways you probably never imagined -- aren't a high-tech peepshow designed to freak you out.

In the scientific paper "Visualizing Non Infectious and Infectious Anopheles gambiae Blood Feedings in Naive and Saliva-Immunized Mice," researcher Valérie Choumet and colleagues from the Paris-based Pasteur Institute and the French National Museum of Natural History describe the complex process that occurs when normal and infected mosquitoes attack mammals.

Using the power of intravital video microscopy, researchers observed that in comparison to a normal mosquito, Plasmodium-infected (a malaria-causing parasite) mosquitoes attack mice differently by performing a lengthy probing session to find and suck blood. While there's no official explanation on exactly how the parasite inspires this extended feasting, it appears the parasite alters the genes in a mosquito's mouthpiece or directs an elaborate "puppeteering" of the nervous system.

The French researchers found that older mosquitoes and mosquitoes with sporozoites in their salivary glands spend more time probing for blood as well.

A mouse immunized with antibodies experiences a different bite scheme. When feeding on an immunized host, a collection of white antibodies appears at the tip of a mosquito's probe, causing the host's smaller blood vessels to clog. That didn't stop the mosquitoes from digging deeper and looking for larger blood vessels, though.

If you're hungry for more, check out other discoveries concluded from this spine-tingling research.

(Via National Geographic)