(WHTM) – We’ve all encountered these absolutely annoying creatures, especially during the late spring and summer. They descend on guests at barbecues – or any outdoor event really. Some even carry diseases like the West Nile and Zika viruses.
It’s the dreaded mosquito. But do these pests serve a purpose?
Well, yes actually, and one you might not expect.
The National Wildlife Foundation says there are more than 3,500 species of mosquitoes, and not all of them bite humans.
The U.S. and its territories are home to more than 200 species, with only about a dozen carrying “germs” that can be spread to people 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, pesky mosquitoes don’t spread germs.”
But mosquitoes aren’t all bad, and there’s one thing about them that might surprise you: they’re pollinators.
The National Wildlife Foundation says mosquitoes’ primary source of food is nectar, not blood.
The female mosquito is the only one that bites as she needs the protein found in blood to help with the process of producing her eggs. The male mosquito does not feed on humans or animals – only on nectar.
The National Wildlife Foundation says only a few plant species are completely dependent on mosquitoes for pollination.
Mosquitoes also serve as a food source for other animals. Many birds, bats, dragonflies, newts and turtles feed on these bugs.
So mosquitoes actually serve a purpose, but you still don’t have to feel bad about swatting one if it tries to bite you.
According to the CDC, because mosquitoes 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 may be spreading germs when it bites, it’s 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 you are bitten, the CDC says, wash the affected area with soap and water and apply an ice pack to reduce swelling and itching. To relieve the itching, you can use a baking soda and water mixture or an over-the-counter anti-itch or antihistamine cream.