Background: The purpose of this study was to determine whether the sugar-or-blood meal choice of Anopheles gambiae females one day after emergence is influenced by blood-host presence and accessibility, nectariferous plant abundance, and female size. This tested the hypothesis that the initial meal of female An. gambiae is sugar, even when a blood host is available throughout the night, and, if not, whether the use of a bed net diverts mosquitoes to sugar sources.
Methods: Females and males <1-day post-emergence were released in a mesocosm. Overnight they had access to either one or six Senna didymobotrya plants. Simultaneously they had access to a human blood host, either for 8 h or for only 30 min at dusk and dawn (the remainder of the night being excluded by an untreated bed net). In a third situation, the blood host was not present. All mosquitoes were collected in the morning. Their wing lengths, an indicator of pre-meal energetic state, were measured, and their meal choice was determined by the presence of midgut blood and of fructose.
Results: Female sugar feeding after emergence was facultative. When a blood host was accessible for 8 h per night, 92% contained blood, and only 3.7% contained sugar. Even with the use of a bed net, 78% managed to obtain a blood meal during the 30 min of accessibility at dusk or dawn, but 14% of females were now fructose-positive. In the absence of a blood host, and when either one or six plants were available, a total of 21.7% and 23.6% of females and 30.8% and 43.5% of males contained fructose, respectively. Feeding on both sugar and blood was more likely with bed net use and with greater plant abundance. Further, mosquitoes that fed on both resources were more often small and had taken a sugar meal earlier than the blood meal. The abundance of sugar hosts also affected the probability of sugar feeding by males and the amount of fructose obtained by both males and females.
Conclusion: Even in an abundance of potential sugar sources, female An. gambiae appear to prefer a nearby human source of blood. However, the decision to take sugar was more likely if energy reserves were low. Results probably would differ if sugar hosts were more attractive or yielded larger sugar meals. The diversion of energetically deprived mosquitoes to sugar sources suggests a possible synergy between bed nets and sugar-based control methods.