Say you want to dress up as the world's scariest animal this Halloween.

You don't need fangs, claws or horns.

All it takes is a couple of pipe cleaners, some Halloween fairy wings and a few other supplies (see complete directions at the end of this post) to transform into a mosquito, a creature that poses far more of a risk to humans than all the usual suspects.

Sharks, for example, get a lot of press. But they are overrated as killers. According to the International Shark Attack File, curated by The Florida Program for Shark Research, the confirmed 2022 total of "unprovoked" bites was 57 – down from the 2017-2021 average of 70 a year. Five people died after an attack last year.

Snakes easily eclipse sharks with their lethal toll: the World Health Organization estimates that 5.4 million people a year are bitten by snakes, with 81,000 to 138,000 deaths annually.

Still, that's nothing compared to mosquitoes. Mosquitoes can carry parasites for many diseases: dengue fever, zika ... and malaria.

Females of the genus Anopheles can feed on a person or animal that is infected and ingest the malaria parasite, which passes through the bug's blood and eventually gets into its salivary glands. Then the bug bites, releasing its infectious – and potentially deadly — spit.

UNICEF reports that "In 2021, there were 247 million malaria cases globally that led to 619,000 deaths in total. Of these deaths, 77% were children under 5 years of age."

That makes the tiny mosquito the most dangerous animal on the planet.

And the insects appear to be expanding their reach.

This year there were a handful of cases of local transmission in the U.S., something that doesn't happen that often since the massive campaign to eradicate malaria-carrying mosquitoes in the 1940s and '50s. This year's malaria victims had not traveled outside the country. Did U.S. mosquitoes bite someone who'd contracted malaria on a trip abroad – and then proceed to bite and infect an American? Or have warming temperatures meant that malaria-carrying mosquitoes are able to thrive in regions that previously would not be hospitable? The jury is still out regarding these specific U.S. cases --although climate change experts say that mosquitoes are indeed expanding their reach as temperatures rise.

And that would only add to the mosquito's staggering impact.

"Mosquitoes are responsible for killing 2,000 people a day," says Grayson Brown, executive director, Puerto Rico Vector Control Unit. "More people die in an hour than all the shark attacks in a whole year. What other animal inflicts that kind of damage?"

How to dress up as a mosquito for Halloween

In less than an hour, we made a mosquito costume, using supplies from a drugstore. A pair of large sunglasses stand in for big bug eyes. Two pipe cleaners affixed to a headband are the antennae. We bought pre-made Halloween fairy wings, then spray-painted them black. For the mosquito's beak, we rolled up a piece of black paper 2 feet by 3 feet and used elastic thread to attach it to the head. The final touch: an oversize sweatshirt — red for all the blood this mosquito's been drinking — with skin patterns created by black electrical tape. We hope you don't get swatted!

Susan Brink is a freelance writer who covers health and medicine. She is the author of The Fourth Trimester and co-author of A Change of Heart.

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