A metallic-looking mosquito sucks blood from a knuckle

A Sabethes mosquito pierces Gil's knuckle and sucks his blood. Only females feed on blood just before they are about to produce eggs. © Gil Wizen.

Read later


During Beta testing articles may only be saved for seven days.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year: The world's most beautiful mosquito

Entomologist and wildlife photographer Gil Wizen spent four years trying to capture the perfect image of an iridescent blood-sucking mosquito.

His persistence - and risks - paid off as his photo: Beautiful Bloodsucker was Highly Commended in the fifty-seventh Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.

Gil first discovered the small, metallic-coloured mosquito while photographing a jumping spider in the Amazon rainforest of Ecuador.

Jumping spiders have large, telescopic eyes and can see things clearly at a distance. They are also predators of mosquitos.

Gil noticed the spider's eyes following something above his head. He looked up to discover a small, shimmering fly hovering. It was something Gil had never seen before and he quickly abandoned the spider in lieu of the fly, which he later discovered to be a mosquito from the Sabethes genus.

Gil says, 'Jumping spiders have evolved to follow insect movements. I was lucky that this arachnid noticed the mosquito, which is how I came across the insect for the first time.'

This encounter was the start of a four-year-journey for Gil. He travelled back to Ecuador about seven times, trying to capture the perfect shot of the mosquito which had him enthralled.

A large brown mosquito rests on a scientist's hand in the rainforest

Gil holds a giant silk moth after a night of tracking insects in the Amazon rainforest near Puerto Misahuallí, Napo Province, Ecuador © Gil Wizen

The journey to getting the perfect photo

At only four millimetres long, the Sabethes mosquito is almost impossible to spot in the vastness of the Amazon rainforest. And unlike other species, which can make a tiny buzzing sound when flying, the Sabethes are silent.

Gil had learned the best way to photograph these insects was to wait for them to come to him.

One day, Gil was out in the forest looking for another insect to photograph. It had rained earlier and the air was more humid than usual. Suddenly, he noticed a glint of colour in the shade of the trees - it was his favourite mosquito.

Gil quickly prepped his gear, crouched on the ground and waited for the insect to come closer. Having observed them for a few years by then, Gil was familiar with some of their behaviours. He lifted a hand to encourage the mosquito to land on a finger.

By the time the insect landed, more had arrived.

'Imagine a sweaty man sitting in the middle of a forest with a cloud of mosquitoes around his head,' says Gil. 'These mosquitoes often look for body parts that stick out like your knuckles, nose or elbows. I think it's because it's easier for them to break through the skin.'

Gil knew from experience that if he photographed the mosquitoes against the background of the forest, the details of their beautiful exterior would probably get lost. So he decided to use his neutral-coloured cargo pants as a backdrop which allowed the focus to fall on the colours and details of the body.

A large spider weaves a thick white web

Gil Wizen's photo of a spider spinning a web under a loose bark also won this year's Behaviour: Invertebrates category © Gil Wizen

The dangers of working with mosquitoes in the Amazon rainforest

Part of photographing mosquitoes in the rainforest is getting bitten by them too.

'You can actually feel them drilling into your skin,' says Gil. 'Most of us know how itchy a mosquito bite can be but with this species, there is no itch. There's just a painful sensation which lasts hours, sometimes even days.'

But perhaps the more pressing issue is the potential diseases one can contract from a mosquito bite or from working in that type of environment.

'Mosquitoes can transmit diseases which is always a concern,' explains Gil. 'But there are also many pathogens and diseases that we don't know of in these tropical areas and they're more of a concern.

'The Amazon is a remote area. If you get bitten by a mosquito and catch something, you have some time before you develop any illnesses. But if something else happens, you might not have the time to get help. It's always an issue when working in these areas but it's one you have to accept as part of the job.'

A colourful mosquito sucking blood from a finger

There are over 3,500 mosquito species of which only around 200 bite humans © Gil Wizen

Communicating wildlife to the public through photos

Gil is no stranger when it comes to photographing wildlife.

'I've been an entomologist for around two decades but I've been capturing wildlife through my lens for a lot longer,' says Gil.

Taking a portrait of the Sabethes mosquito was a personal endeavour for Gil who champions communicating science to the public.

'I want the photo to make people pause for a moment,' explains Gil. 'To take the time and look at what they're about to kill. Some mosquitoes - not only the Sabethes species - are really beautiful.'

This particular species has ornamentations called paddles on its legs. Scientists are unsure why but some theorise that it may be for courtship reasons.

'We don't know enough about these insects,' says Gil. 'When these mosquitoes fly, they spread their paddles sideway and it makes them look like a different type of insect, like wasps, so maybe they're trying to mimic something.'

Gil also hopes his photo gives a voice to this intriguing species.

'We forget that they have an important role in nature,' explains Gil. 'Mosquito larvae break down colonies of bacteria and algae in stagnant water, whether in tree hollows or collected elsewhere. Without mosquitoes, we'd have smelly water everywhere.'

Mosquitoes also serve as an important food source to some animals such as birds, bats, toads, fish and even other flies. Most mosquitoes feed on nectar, and as a result help to pollinate many crops and flowers.

'Taking photos is really important as it records your findings which could potentially be something that has never been found before. It also helps to communicate and even advocate for wildlife.

I am honoured to have been Highly Commended for Wildlife Photographer of the Year.'