(WHTM) — We all have encountered these absolutely annoying creatures, especially during late spring and summer time. They descend on guests at barbeques – or any outdoor event really. Some even carry diseases such as the West Nile and Zika viruses.
It’s the dreaded mosquito. But do these pests serve a purpose?
Well, yes actually, and one you may not expect.
The National Wildlife Foundation says there are more than 3,500 species of mosquitos, and not all of them bite people.
The U.S. and its territories are home to over 200 species, with only about a dozen carrying “germs” that can be spread to humans and make them sick, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Other mosquitoes bother people and are considered nuisance mosquitoes,” says the CDC. “In general, nuisance mosquitoes do not spread germs.”
But, mosquitoes aren’t all bad, and there is one thing about them that may surprise you: They are pollinators.
The National Wildlife Foundation says mosquitos’ primary source of food is nectar, not blood.
The female mosquito is the only one that bites since she needs the protein found in blood to help in the process of producing her eggs. The male mosquito doesn’t feed on people or animals — only on nectar.
The National Wildlife Foundation says only a few plant species are completely dependent on mosquitos for pollination.
Mosquitos also serve as a food source for other animals. Many birds, bats, dragonflies, newts and turtles feed on these bugs.
So mosquitoes do, in fact, serve a purpose, but you still don’t have to feel bad about smacking one if it tries to bite you.
According to the CDC, because mosquitos can carry viruses like West Nile, Zika and dengue and parasites like malaria, you should protect yourself even though not everyone infected with such germs gets sick.
“Because you can’t tell which mosquito could be spreading germs when it bites, it is important to protect yourself from mosquito bites,” says the CDC.
The CDC suggests using insect repellent and wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts, among other precautions, including pest control “inside and outside.”
If bitten, the CDC says, you should wash the affected area with soap and water and apply an ice pack to reduce swelling and itching. To relieve the itch, you can use a baking soda and water mixture or an over-the-counter anti-itch or antihistamine cream.