A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

If you flex your muscle when a mosquito bites you, will it swell up and explode?

August 22, 1997

Dear Cecil:

We request your wisdom to investigate a story (fact or fiction) regarding exploding mosquitoes. Many years ago I was told that when a mosquito is engaged in dinner one should flex or tighten the muscle in the general vicinity. This would trap the hapless female, along with her proboscis, causing her to overfill and explode. Recently I read an article on the same subject, with the only exception being one should pull taut the human skin around the offending wench, which would also trap her, causing her the same fate as fable number one. Any insight from the Straight Dope would be appreciated.

Cecil replies:

Some might say we're dwelling excessively on the subject of EFOs (exploding flying objects), but I feel this question has been shamefully neglected in the popular press. First thing we did was review the scientific literature. This consisted of going down to the drugstore and getting a copy of the August 1997 Discover magazine, which contains the article you undoubtedly saw, headlined "Why Mosquitoes Suck." Sounds like our kind of journalism. Unfortunately most of the article was about how mosquitoes may be attracted to your body by the same odor found in Limburger cheese, whereas exploding mosquitoes, a topic that truly elevates the human spirit, gets kissed off in 3.5 paragraphs — which, moreover, do not resolve the question! I quote:

"Here's the trick: Once a mosquito has landed and begun feeding, you stretch the skin taut on either side of it. Supposedly, if you're deft, you can trap the proboscis in your skin in midfeed. Stuck in the blood vessel, unable to pull out, its anticoagulants working overtime to keep its blood meal coming, the mosquito sucks until it pops.

"Maybe this method of entrapment works. Maybe it works only for small boys. Maybe it's just a stupid pest trick or one of those urban legends that shouldn't be put to the test" (my emphasis).

"Maybe"! "Supposedly"! What kind of baloney is that? Our job as journalists is to ascertain the facts! Although there is such a thing as delegating responsibility. I sent out a bulletin to the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board asking for volunteers to have the blood sucked out of their bodies. The teletypes fell silent. After some moments the Colorado division inquired whether it would be possible to substitute different bodily fluids. Denied. Finally we got this dispatch from Lileth:

"No need to try; I've done this many times. (I am easily bored.) It's cool, because you can see its belly filling up. This takes a lot of patience, and nerves of steel, because it takes a while, and is kinda uncomfortable. Anyway, if you leave the muscle tensed enough, she cannot pull out, and then she — well, explodes is a little graphic. Ruptures, maybe? It's not that gruesome, but it is strangely satisfying."

I cabled back: "IF YOU TENSE OTHER MUSCLES ARE OTHER CRITTERS UNABLE TO PULL OUT?" This was not well received. Other members of the panel were blunter. "Lil is lying," commented the ever-tactful JillGat. "Or she's recounting what she heard her neighbor's son's roommate's sister told her." Bitter words ensued. The term "pie hole" was used. (I didn't ask.) This was followed by a period of alarums and excursions during which the following facts emerged: The female members of the SDSAB did all the work while the men didn't accomplish squat. (CK says he tried, but no mosquitoes would bite him. Sure.) We note that only female mosquitoes drink blood, so maybe there was some kind of sisterhood thing going on here. Katherine trapped some skeeters by stretching the skin. They ruptured rather than exploded, but good enough for me. Songbird apparently got an entire concert audience to try this. (One assumes it was some kind of John Cage deal and they thought it was part of the performance.) One participant said the mosquito "swoll up so big I could see his brand." An entomologist to whom Lileth appealed for support confirmed the thing could be done.

OK, it can be done. The unanswered question is why you would do it. Looking at the big picture, you wouldn't call this a cost-effective method of mosquito abatement, and the entertainment value of watching a mosquito leak has got to be down there with watching your sunburn peel. But if it helps you pass the time on a dull summer evening, have at it.

Wait a sec. The teletypes are clattering again. It's JYDog from Hoboken: "This disturbs me. Are we doing tapeworms next?"

Fine, Dog. Be a pup. But when I want volunteers for sex in space, don't let me see you at the front of the line.

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