Friday, May 24, 2019

What’s This Bug? The Asian Tiger Mosquito.

Close up of a black and white striped mosquito - The Asian Tiger Mosquito - Aedes albopictus
Aedes albopictus
Here at ARBICO we get a lot of people
coming in clutching their phones or carrying in carefully preserved specimens in glass jars or baggies
(not to mention those that send us emails with pictures) and they all ask a variation of the same question: “What’s this bug?’. And we love it. Not only are we generally crazy bug people, we embrace every opportunity to direct a person away from wholesale poisoning in the name of pest control and to guide them to a better, nature-loving choice. Some of what we come across is interesting in a “that’s weird” kind of way and some is interesting in a “oh, that’s what that looks like” way. These interactions can be entertaining as well as informative and I’d like to share some of this with you. So, with this post, I am initiating an on-going series to highlight some of these.

Close up of a tiger resting in the shadows -  photo by Edewaa Foster on Unsplash
We begin with the Asian Tiger Mosquito (Aedes albopictus). Most people are surprised when they really get a look at these small guys (about 1/4" long) because they are actually quite lovely and way more decorative than one might think a mosquito could be. Their trademark black and silvery white striping may vary somewhat, but this species is easily identified by the white “racing” strip that runs from the front of the head down to its back. If this coloration seems more zebra than tiger, there may be a hint to this name thing in its origin story: In 1894, an entomologist, F.A.A. Skuse, in Sydney received a previously undocumented specimen from Calcutta. He referred to the insect as his “banded mosquito of Bengal” and gave it the albopictus name, which means “painted white”. Somewhere over time, this reference to Bengal became connected to this most famous animal of Bengal, the tiger. The ferocity of this insect probably played a part is the name as well. Besides, “Asian Zebra Mosquito” just doesn’t sound right.

Three Lucky Bamboo plants in white pots
Lucky Bamboo
The part in its name that is accurate, is the “Asian” part, as it is native to Southeast Asia. It has not stayed there, though. It has proven to be extremely successful as an invasive species. In fact, it is one of the Top 100 World’s Worst Invasive Alien Species according to the Global Invasive Species Database and can now be found in a good portion of the world. The reasons for its success lie in the adaptability of this insect. It can thrive in a wide variety of climates from wet to dry in tropical and temperate areas; it feeds on multiple types of hosts (people, domestic and wild animals and birds); it is a container breeder that can breed in small amounts of water (both natural and manmade) and it is active year-round in many areas. It is believed that these pretty little biters first came to the Southeastern U.S. in a shipment of tires in the mid-1980’s. California had managed to stay clear of these invaders until 2001, when they were found in several counties. It was determined that these mosquitoes had been introduced by a shipment of ornamental “Lucky Bamboo” plants from Taiwan.

White Aedes aegypti larvae hanging in water on a black background
Aedes aegypti larvae
So, what’s the deal with these? First of all, these tigers are difficult to ignore. The females are aggressive biters and might bite the same person several times; she is persistent about getting that all-important iron and protein needed to produce eggs. In addition, Asian Tiger Mosquitoes work during the day, unlike other species that will feed at dawn and dusk. This day-drinking habit means they can come into contact with greater number of people than other mosquitoes and it also makes them more difficult to control. Most large-scale spraying for mosquito control takes place at night in order reduce the effects on humans and other insects and because atmospheric conditions in daytime make it less effective. By the time these guys go to work in the morning, the sprays broadcast at night will have already dissipated.

A brown dog sitting by a table in the grass with brown lawn chairs around itThis biggest issue with these mosquitoes is that they are reliable vectors for some very serious diseases. These diseases include Chikungunya, Zika, Encephalitis, Dengue, Yellow Fever, West Nile Virus and Heartworms in dogs. Of all the big names of viral diseases carried by mosquitoes, the only one the Asian Tiger does not carry is Malaria; that virus belongs to the Aedes aegypti species. It is important to note that the viruses carried by the Asian Tiger in the U.S. have (to this date) only affected animals; there is no evidence of human disease. So, although your risk may be fairly low, take care to protect your animals from potentially devastating bites as you are outside enjoying yourself this summer. Here are some ideas from my blog.

In late 2017, the EPA approved the use of male Asian Tiger Mosquitoes that have been infected with the Woolbachia bacteria as a biopesticide. These non-biting boys are then let loose to breed with wild females. The bacteria renders their offspring unviable, eventually causing the population to drop. These bacteria-ridden deadbeat dads are being sold under the moniker “ZAP Males”.

A green plant with some standing water in the middle of it
These mosquitoes are pretty but they can be a real nuisance to you and a real danger to your animals. The best way to protect yourself is to cover yourself up when outdoors and to deprive them of breeding space, but remember that they can breed in something as small as a bottle cap - even a flower or plant. We offer a comprehensive assortment of mosquito control products to help you and further information here.

If you are interested in what the USDA has to say about the Asian Tiger Mosquito, here is a Public Service Announcement video they put out. You can also keep up to date with these insects and other invasive species on their website here.

Happy bite-dodging this summer!

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