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The Asian tiger mosquito or forest day mosquito (Aedes (Stegomyia) albopictus), from the mosquito family Culicidae, is characterized by its black and white striped legs, and small black and white body. It is native to the tropical and subtropical areas of Southeast Asia; however, in the past couple of decades this species has invaded many countries throughout the world through the transport of goods and increasing international travel. This mosquito has become a significant pest in many communities because it closely associates with humans (rather than living in wetlands), and typically flies and feeds in the daytime in addition to at dusk and dawn.

Description

Name and systematics

In 1895, a British-Australian entomologist, Frederick A. Askew Skuse, was the first to describe scientifically the Asian tiger mosquito, which he named Culex albopictus (lat. Culex “gnat, midge” and albopictus “white embroided”). Later, the species was assigned to the genus Aedes (gr. άηδής, "unpleasant" )and referred to as Aedes albopictus. Like the yellow fever mosquito, it belongs to the subgenus Stegomyia (gr. στέγος, "covered, roofed", referring to the scales that completely cover the dorsal surface in this Subgenus, and μυία, "fly"). In 2004, scientists explored higher-level relationships and proposed a new classification within the Aedes genus and Stegomyia was elevated to the Genus level, making Aedes albopictus now Stegomyia albopicta. This is, however, a controversial matter, and the use of Stegomyia albopicta versus Aedes albopictus is continually debated.

Characteristics

The Asian tiger mosquito is about 2 to 10 mm length with a striking white and black pattern. The variation of the body size in adult mosquitoes depends on the density of the larval population and food supply within the breeding water. Since these circumstances are only seldom optimal, the average body size of adult mosquitoes is considerably smaller than 10 mm. For example, the average length of the abdomen was calculated to be 2.63 mm, the wings 2.7 mm, and the proboscis 1.88 mm through a study of 10 images from 1962 of both male and female mosquitoes.

The males are roughly 20% smaller than the females, but they are morphologically very similar. However, as in all mosquito species, the antennae of the males in comparison to the females are noticeably bushier and contain auditory receptors to detect the characteristic whine of the female. The maxillary palps of the males are also longer than their proboscises whereas the females’ maxillary palps are much shorter. (This is typical for the males of the Culicinae.) In addition, the tarsus of the hind legs of the males is more silvery. Tarsomere IV is roughly three-quarters silver in the males whereas the females’ is only about 60% silver.

The other characteristics do not differentiate between sexes. A single silvery-white line of tight scales begins between the eyes and continues down the dorsal side of the thorax. This characteristic marking is the easiest and surest way to identify the Asian tiger mosquito.

The probiscis is dark colored, the upper surface of the end segment of the palps is covered in silvery scales, and the labium does not feature a light line on its underside. The compound eyes are distinctly separated from one another. The scutum, the dorsal portion of an insect’s thoracic segment, is black alongside the characteristic white midline. On the side of the thorax, the scutellum, and the abdomen there are numerous spots covered in white-silvery scales.

Such white-silvery scales can also be found on the tarsus, particularly on the hind legs that are commonly suspended in the air. The base of tarsomere I through IV has a ring of white scales, creating the appearance of white and black rings. On the fore legs and middle legs, only the first three tarsomeres have the ring of white scales whereas tarsomere V on the hind legs is completely white. The femur of each leg is also black with white scales on the end of the “knee”. The femurs of the middle legs do not feature a silver line on the base of the upper side, whereas, the femurs on the hind legs have short white lines on base of the upper side. The tibias are black on the base and have no white scales.

The terga on segments II through VI of the abdomen are dark and have an almost triangular silvery-white marking on the base that is not aligned with the silvery bands of scales on the ventral side of the abdomen. The triangular marking and the silvery band are only aligned on abdominal segment VII. The transparent wings have white spots on the base of the Costas. With older mosquito specimens, the scales could be partially worn off making the previously mentioned characteristics not stand out as much.

The typical Aedes albopictus individual has a length of about 2 to 10mm. As with other members of the mosquito family, the female is equipped with an elongated proboscis that she uses to collect blood to feed her eggs. The Asian tiger mosquito has a rapid bite that allows it to escape most attempts by people to swat it. By contrast the male member of the species primarily feeds on nectar.

The female lays her eggs near water; not directly into it as other mosquitoes do, but typically near a stagnant pool. However, any open container containing water will suffice for larvae development, even with less than an ounce of water in. It can also breed in running water, so stagnant pools of water are not its only breeding sites. It has a short flight range (less than 200 m), so breeding sites are likely to be close to where this mosquito is found.

Similar species

Some mosquitoes in North America, such as Ochlerotatus canadensis, have a similar leg pattern.

In Europe, the mosquito,Culiseta annulata, which is very common but does not occur in high densities, can be mistaken for an Asian tiger mosquito because of its black and white ringed legs. However, this species is missing the distinctive white line that runs from the middle of its head and down the thorax. It is also considerably larger than Aedes albopictus, is not black and white, but rather beige and grey striped, and has wings with noticeable veins and four dark, indistinct spots.

In the eastern Mediterranean area, Aedes albopictus species can be mistaken with Aedes cretinus, which also belongs to the subgenus Stegomyia and utilizes similar breeding waters. Aedes cretinus also has a white stripe on the Scutum, but it ends shortly before the abdomen, and also has two additional stripes to the left and right of the middle stripe. So far Aedes cretinus is only located in Cyprus, Crete, Greece, Macedonia, Georgia and Turkey.

In Asia, the Asian tiger mosquito can be mistaken for other members of the subgenus Stegomyia, because they frequently display a similar black and white pattern, particularly, the most prevalent species in the tropics and subtropics, the yellow fever mosquito Aedes aegypti. It can be hard to distinguish Aedes albopictus from the closely related Aedes scutellaris (India, Indonesia, Papua New Guineamarker, and the Philippinesmarker), Aedes pseudoalbopictus (Indiamarker, Indonesiamarker, Malaysiamarker, Myanmarmarker, Nepalmarker, Taiwanmarker, Thailandmarker, and Vietnammarker) and Aedes seatoi (Thailand) .

Ecology

Bloated female at the end of a meal.


Diet and host location

Like other mosquito species, only the females require a blood meal to develop their eggs. Apart from that, they receive their energy demand from nectar and other sweet plant juices just as the males do. In regards to host location, carbon dioxide and organic substances produced from the host, humidity, and optical recognition play important roles.

The search for a host takes place in two phases. First, the mosquito exhibits a nonspecific searching behavior until the perception of host stimulants which is then followed by a targeted approach. For catching tiger mosquitoes with special traps, carbon dioxide and a combination of chemicals that naturally occur in human skin (fatty acids, ammonia, and lactic acid) are the most attractive.

The Asian tiger mosquito particularly bites during the day. Depending upon region and biotype there are differing active peaks but for the most part they rest during the morning and night hours. They search for their hosts inside and outside of human dwellings, but are particularly active outside. The size of the blood meal depends upon the size of the mosquito, but it is usually around 2 microliters μl.

Aedes albopictus also bites other mammals and birds besides humans. They are always on the search for a host and are both persistent and cautious when it comes to their blood meal and host location. Their blood meal is often broken off short without enough blood ingested for the development of their eggs. This is why Asian tiger mosquitoes bite multiple hosts during their development cycle of the egg, making them particularly efficient at transmitting diseases. The mannerism of biting diverse host species enables the Asian tiger mosquito to be a potential bridge vector for certain pathogens, for example, the West Nile Virus that can jump species boundaries.

Natural enemies

Toxorhynchites larvae, a mosquito genus that does not suck blood, feeds upon other mosquito larvae and are often found together with tiger mosquito larvae. Flatworms and also small swimming beetles are considered natural predators.

Primarily fungi, ciliates, paramecia, and protozoan act as parasites to Asian tiger mosquitoes. Relatives of Oomycetes, also known as water molds, from the genus Coelomomyces (Phylum Chytridiomycota, Order Blastocladiales) develop inside the visceral cavity of mosquito larvae. The species Coelomomyces stegomyiae was first found on the Asian tiger mosquito. Paramecium, or ciliates, can also affect Aedes albopictus larvae and the first detected species was Lambornella stegomyiae (Hymenostomatida: Tetrahymenidae). The virulence, mortality rate, and subsequent possibilities of Lambornella being implemented as a biological remedy to control Aedes albopictus, however, has conflicting views. Sporozoans of the genus Ascogregarina (Lecudinidae) infect the larval stage of mosquitoes. The species Ascogregarina taiwanensis was described in Asian tiger mosquitoes. When the adult mosquitoes emerge from their pupal case, they leave the infectious intermediary stage of parasites in the water and close off the infection cycle. Infected adults are generally smaller than non-infected adults and have an insignificantly higher mortality rate; therefore, food supply and larval density apparently play a roll. In competitive situations, an infection with sporozoans can also reduce the biological fitness of other non-infected mosquitoes. However, the utilization of parasites as an effective biological remedy to control mosquito populations is implausible because it is essential that the host reaches the adult stage in order for the transmission of the parasites.

Even though they do not commonly occur in the natural habitats of Asian tiger mosquitoes, predatory copepods from the Cyclopidae family seem to willingly feed on them given the opportunity. Relatives of different genera could therefore present an interesting possibility in the control of tiger mosquitoes.

Predators of adult Aedes albopictus in Malaysia include various spider species. Up to 90% of the gathered spiders from rubber plantations and a cemetery fed upon Asian tiger mosquitoes. Whether the spiders would have an effect on the mosquito population is still unclear. Tiger mosquitoes were abundantly present despite the existence of the spiders.

Distribution

Climatic adaptations

Although Aedes albopictus is native to tropical and subtropical regions, they are successfully adapting themselves to cooler regions. In the warm and humid tropical regions, they are active the entire year long, however, in temperate regions they hibernate over winter. Eggs from strains in the temperate zones are more tolerant to the cold than ones from warmer regions. They can even tolerate snow and temperatures under freezing. In addition, adult tiger mosquitoes can survive throughout winter in suitable microhabitats.

Invasive species

Originally, the Asian tiger mosquito comes from Southeast Asia. In 1967 parts of Asia and the island worlds of India and the Pacific Ocean were denoted as the area of circulation for the Asian tiger mosquito. Since then, it has spread to Europe, the Americas, the Caribbean, Africa and the Middle East. Aedes albopictus is one of the 100 world's worst invasive species according to the Global Invasive Species Database.

The Aedes albopictus mosquito is not native to Australia and New Zealandmarker. In fact, the species was introduced there multiple times, but has yet to establish itself. This is due to the well organized entomological surveillance programs in the harbors and airports of these countries. Nevertheless, on the islands in the Torres Straitmarker between Queensland, Australia and New Guinea Aedes albopictus has become domestic.

In Europe the Asian tiger mosquito first emerged in Albaniamarker in 1979, where they were evidently introduced through a shipment of goods from Chinamarker. In 1990/1991, they were most likely brought to Italymarker in used tires from Georgia (USA) and since then have spread throughout the entire mainland of Italymarker as well as parts of Sicily and Sardinia. Since 1999 they have established themselves on the mainland of Francemarker, primarily southern France. In 2002, they were also discovered in a vacation town on the island of Corsicamarker, but did not completely establish themselves there until 2005. In Belgiummarker, they were detected for the first time in 2000, 2001 in Montenegromarker, 2003 in Canton Ticinomarker in southern Switzerlandmarker and Greecemarker, 2004 in Spainmarker and Croatiamarker, 2005 in the Netherlandsmarker and Sloveniamarker, and 2006 in Bosnia and Herzegovinamarker. In the fall of 2007, the first tiger mosquito eggs were discovered in Rastattmarker (Baden-Wuerttembergmarker, Germanymarker). Shortly before, they were found in the northern Alps of Switzerland in Canton Aargau. Two were sighted in the UKmarker during the Summer of 2007, as reported by the Mail Online. (Link is in discussion area under topic name "Asian tiger in the UK?").

Asian tiger mosquitoes were first found in North America in a shipment of used tires at the port of Houstonmarker in 1985. Since then they have spread across southern USAmarker, and as far up the East Coast as Maine. This species is an introduced species in Hawaiimarker as well, but has been there since before 1986.

In 1986 the Asian tiger mosquito was discovered in Brazilmarker and in 1988 in Argentinamarker and Mexicomarker as well. Other parts of Latin America where the Asian tiger mosquito was discovered are the Dominican Republicmarker in 1993, Boliviamarker, Cubamarker, Hondurasmarker, and Guatemalamarker in 1995, El Salvadormarker in 1996, Paraguaymarker in 1999, Panamamarker in 2002, and Uruguaymarker and Nicaraguamarker in 2003.

In South Africa, the species was detected in 1990. In Nigeriamarker it has been domestic since at least 1991. It spread to Cameroonmarker in 1999/2000, to the Bioko Island of Equatorial Guinea in 2001, and to Gabon in 2006.

In the Middle East, the species was detected in the Lebanonmarker in 2003 in Syriamarker in 2005; the first record in Israelmarker was published in 2003.

Competition to established species

Aedes albopictus out competing and eradicating other species with similar breeding habitats can be independently observed from the very start of their dispersal to other regions and biotypes.

In Kolkatamarker, for example, it was already being observed in the 1950s that in city districts where the malaria mosquito (genus Anopheles) was fought off with DDT there were also no yellow fever mosquitoes (Aedes aegypti) to be found. Nevertheless, egg depositing containers were being settled by the Asian tiger mosquitoes. The reason why, in this case, may be due to the fact that primarily the inner walls of the houses were treated with DDT to kill the mosquitoes resting there and fight the malaria mosquito. The yellow fever mosquito also lingers particularly in the inside of buildings and would have been also affected. The Asian tiger mosquito rests in the vicinity of human dwellings would therefore have an advantage over the other two species. In other cases, where the yellow fever mosquito was repressed by the Asian tiger mosquito, for instance in Florida, this explanation does not fit. Other hypotheses, for the most part, include competition in the larval breeding waters, differences in metabolism and reproductive biology, or a major susceptibility to sporozoans (Apicomplexa).

Another species, which was suppressed by the migrating Aedes albopictus was Aedes guamensis in Guammarker.

The Asian tiger mosquito is similar, in terms of their close socialization with humans, to the common house mosquito (Culex pipiens). Among other differences in their biology, Culex pipiens prefer larger breeding waters and are more tolerant to the cold. In this respect, there is probably not any significant competition or suppression between the two species.

A possible competition among mosquito species that all lay their eggs in knotholes and other similar places (Aedes cretinus, Aedes geniculatus and Anopheles plumbeus) has yet to be observed. These species, however, do not appear to favor human environments.

In Europe, the Asian tiger mosquito apparently covers an extensive new niche. This means that there are no native, long-established species that conflict with the dispersal of the Aedes albopictus mosquito.

Role as disease vectors

It is known that Aedes albopictus can transmit pathogens and viruses, such as, the West Nile Virus, Yellow fever virus, St. Louis Encephalitis, Dengue fever, and Chikungunya fever to name a few.

The Asian tiger mosquito was responsible for the Chikungunya epidemic on the French Island La Réunionmarker in 2005/2006. By September 2006, there was an estimated 266,000 people that were infected with the virus and 248 fatalities on the island. The Asian tiger mosquito was also the transmitter of the virus in the first and only outbreak of Chikungunya fever on the European continent. This outbreak occurred in the Italian province of Ravennamarker in the summer of 2007, and infected over 200 people. Evidently, mutated strains of the Chikungunya virus are being directly transmitted through Aedes albopictus particularly well and in such a way that another dispersal of the disease in regions with the Asian tiger mosquito is feared.

The tiger mosquito is also relevant to veterinarian medicine. For example, the tiger mosquitoes are transmitters of Dirofilaria immitis, a parasitic round worm that causes Heartworm in dogs and cats.

Control and suppression

Litter in roadside ditches makes an ideal breeding ground for the Asian tiger mosquito.
Aedes albopictus has proven to be very difficult to suppress or to control due to their remarkable ability to adapt to various environments, their close contact with humans, and their reproductive biology.

An Ovitrap, a tool for the detection of Asian tiger mosquitoes.
Their presence is confirmed through the eggs they lay on the wooden paddle.
The brown granules in the water are a BTI preparation that will kill hatching mosquito larvae.


Efficient monitoring or surveillance is essential to prevent the spread and establishment of the species. In addition to the monitoring of ports, warehouses with imported plants, and stockpiles of tires, rest areas on highways and train stations should be monitored with appropriate methods.

The control of the Asian tiger mosquito begins with destroying the places where they lay their eggs, which are never far from where people are being bitten, since this is a weak flyer, with only about a 200-yard lifetime flying radius. Locate puddles that last more than three days, sagging or plugged roof gutters, old tires holding water, litter, bird baths, inlets to sewers and drainage systems holding stagnant water and any other possible containers or pools of standing water. Flower pots, standing flower vases, knotholes and other crevices that can collect water should be filled with sand or fine gravel to prevent mosquitoes from laying their eggs in them. Litter can also hold rain water and should be removed.

Any standing water in pools, catchment basins, etc, that cannot be drained, or dumped, can be periodically treated with properly labeled insecticides or Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (Bti) often formed into doughnut shaped "mosquito dunks". Bti is a bacterium that produces toxins which are effective in killing larvae of mosquitoes and certain other Dipterans, while having almost no effect on other organisms. Bti preparations are readily available at farm, garden, and pool suppliers.

Flowing water will not be a breeding spot and water that contains minnows is not usually a problem, because the fish eat the mosquito larvae. Dragonflies are also an excellent method of imposing control. Dragonfly larvae eat mosquito larvae in the water, and adults will snatch adult mosquitoes as they fly.

Insecticide application against adult mosquitoes has only a limited effect. Most mosquito spraying done at night will have little effect on Asian tiger mosquitoes, if the resting places are not treated. Daytime spraying may be a violation of label directions if foraging bees are present on blossoms in the application area. More importantly, larvae and the dried eggs are a reservoir from which the mosquito population will usually recover rapidly.

In any case, an efficient surveillance is essential to monitor the presence of tiger mosquitoes and the effect control programs have.So called Ovitraps are normally used for the monitoring of Aedes albopictus. They are black water containers with floating Styrofoam blocks or small wooden paddles that are in contact with the surface of the water. Female tiger mosquitoes lay their eggs on these surfaces. Through the identification of these eggs or of the larvae that hatch from these eggs in the laboratory, the presence and abundance of mosquito species can be estimated. Versions of these traps with an adhesive film (sticky traps) that catch the egg depositing mosquitoes make the analysis much easier and quicker, but are more complicated in terms of handling. The results of ovitraps are often variable and depend on the availability of alternative egg depositing waters. Due to this, it is best to use them in large numbers and in conjunction with other monitoring methods.

To date, there are few effective traps for the adult Asian tiger mosquito. Those traps that catch other species of mosquitoes do not catch tiger mosquitoes efficiently. A new trap type has now been shown to catch significant numbers of Aedes albopictus. This device, with the help of a ventilator, produces an upward air current of Ammonia, fatty acids, and lactic acids that takes a similar form and smell of a human body. With the addition of carbon dioxide, the efficacy of the trap is increased. This means there is a suitable tool available for trapping adult tiger mosquitoes and, for example, examining the existence of viruses in the trapped mosquitoes. Previously, the mosquitoes had to be collected off of volunteers to be studied, which is ethically questionable especially during epidemics. Recent research also indicates that this trap type may also have a use as a control tool: in a study in Cesena, Italy, the amount of biting tiger mosquitoes was reduced in places where traps were put up.

Footnotes

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  59. W. Meeraus et al. (2008) Field comparison of novel and gold standard traps for collecting Aedes albopictus in Northern Virginia. J Am Mosq Control Assoc 24(2): 244–248. PDF 237 kb
  60. K. Foley (2007): The BG-Sentinel Trap. Presentation at the Annual Meeting of the Virginia Mosquito Control Association PDF 300 kB
  61. Engelbrecht et al. (2009) Continuous trapping of adult Asian tiger mosquitoes (Aedes albopictus) with BG-Sentinel traps reduced the human landing rate and density indices in an urban environment in Cesena, Italy. Oral presentation at the 5th European Mosquito Control Association Workshop, Turin, Italy, 12 March 2009. Session 10.5 Video of the presentation.


References

  • (2007): Epidemiology of tree-hole breeding mosquitoes in the tropical rainforest of Imo State, south-east Nigeria. Annals of Agricultural and Environmental Medicine 14(1): 31–38. PDF fulltext
  • (2007): Information on Aedes albopictus. Version of 2005-NOV-07. Retrieved 2007-OCT-31.
  • (2007): Tropical Disease Follows Mosquitoes to Europe. Science 317(5844): 1485.
  • (2007): Mission Report – Chikungunya in Italy, 17–21.09.2007. PDF fulltext
  • (1993): What Bit Me? Identifying Hawaiʻi's Stinging and Biting Insects and Their Kin. University of Hawaiʻi Press, Honolulu.
  • (1992): The asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus. Wing Beats 3(3): 5. HTML fulltext


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