As true flies, mosquitoes have one pair of wings, with distinct scales on the surface. Their wings are long and narrow, as are their long, thin legs. They have slender and dainty bodies of length typically 3–6 mm, with dark grey to black coloring. Some species harbor specific morphological patterns. When at rest they tend to hold their first pair of legs outward.
Like all flies, mosquitoes go through four stages in their life cycles: egg, larva, pupa, and adult, or imago. The first three stages—egg, larva, and pupa—are largely aquatic. Each of the stages typically lasts 5 to 14 days, depending on the species and the ambient temperature, but there are important exceptions
Mosquitoes living in regions where some seasons are freezing or waterless spend part of the year in diapauses; they delay their development, typically for months, and carry on with life only when there is enough water or warmth for their needs. For instance, Wyeomyia larvae typically get frozen into solid lumps of ice during winter and only complete their development in spring. The eggs of some species of Aedes remain unharmed in diapause if they dry out, and hatch later when they are covered by water.
Eggs hatch to become larvae, which grow until they are able to change into pupae. The adult mosquito emerges from the mature pupa as it floats at the water surface. Bloodsucking mosquitoes, depending on species, sex, and weather conditions, have potential adult lifespans ranging from as short as a week to as long as several months. Some species can overwinter as adults in diapause.
In most species, adult females lay their eggs in stagnant water: some lay near the water’s edge while others attach their eggs to aquatic plants. Each species selects the situation of the water into which it lays its eggs and does so according to its own ecological adaptations.
Some breed in lakes, some in temporary puddles. Some breed in marshes, some in salt-marshes. Among those that breed in salt water, some are equally at home in fresh and salt water up to about one-third the concentration of seawater, whereas others must acclimatize themselves to the salinity. Such differences are important because certain ecological preferences keep mosquitoes away from most humans, whereas other preferences bring them right into houses at night.