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New Jersey’s Newest Invading Parasite: the Asian Tiger Mosquito

The distribution of the Asian Tiger Mosquito in the US

Residents of New Jersey are no stranger to insect bites, order approximately 60 different species of mosquitoes call the Garden State home, pills along with several different species of biting flies.  It may sound like we’re the main course on the blood-feeders buffet but it’s not as bad as it sounds.  Only a handful of mosquitoes in and around our area are constant pests of humans, many mosquitoes feed almost exclusively on one type of host or another.  Birds and other mammals, both small and large, can be attacked by mosquitoes, not just humans.  Due to their behavior and biology certain species of mosquitoes, like the Black-Tailed Mosquito (Culiseta melanura), feed almost exclusively on birds.

Mosquitoes native to New Jersey have another behavioral trait that offers some relief: most mosquitoes only bite during the dawn and dusk and are not active through the middle of the day.  Small behavioral and biological facets like this have defined New Jersey’s relationship with it’s tiny flying blood-feeders, but unfortunately, all that is about to change.

Meet the Asian Tiger Mosquito (Aedes albopictus), our newest import into the increasingly diverse group of non-native or invading insects.  Like other recent imported pests, the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, the Asian Longhorned Beetle and the Multi-colored Asian Ladybird Beetle, the Asian Tiger Mosquito hails from South East Asia and has been imported into the US within the last 20 years due to imported vegetation and high speed global transit. .

Read more about how invasive pests make their way to the US.

Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus

The most immediately apparent difference between the Asian Tiger and our native mosquitoes is the striking black and white alternating pattern, easily visible even at this small size.  Adults range in size from 2-10mm in length, depending on the quality of nutrition available to them as larvae.  Males and females also look fairly similar, with the largest difference being the male’s bushier and almost fuzzy antennae.

Asian Tiger Mosquitoes have a developmental biology not wholly unlike its native cousin the House Mosquito (Culex pipens).  They have comparable tolerances for heat and cold and both require stagnant fresh water in which to lay their eggs and begin development.  Since stagnant fresh water is very easy to find in close proximity to humans, (think birdbaths, flowerpots, bottoms of garbage cans, etc.) these insects feed quite frequently on humans and will complete their entire lifecycle in very close proximity to humans.

There are, however, two marked differences between the Asian Tiger Mosquito and its local cousins: one is host or target preference, the other being daily activity cycles.

Asian Tiger Mosquitoes are voracious feeders and are not specific to a single host or host type.  Tiger Mosquitoes have no problem feeding on birds, humans or other mammals, both small and large over the course of their lives.    Another odd feeding behavior the Asian Tiger Mosquito exhibits is incomplete feeding.  Not all Asian Tiger Mosquitoes get a full blood meal at every feeding, requiring a second trip for the required nutrition.  Since these mosquitoes don’t always “go right back for seconds” they’ll feed on a different host if not a different type of host altogether.

These two behaviors cause the Asian Tiger Mosquito to be a rather significant vector of viruses and other pathogens.  Oftentimes groups of animals will harbor a virus or pathogen without showing symptoms, like the West Nile Virus or encephalitis in birds. The feeding behavior for the Asian Tiger mosquito results in multiple feedings from multiple hosts and host types during their lifetimes, significantly increasing their chances of passing on an infection like the Yellow fever virus, dengue fever and Chikungunya fever.

Now that we’ve established the Asian Tiger Mosquito is a diverse feeder the second part of its feeding behavior can be discussed.  Unlike most other mosquitoes, the Asian Tiger Mosquito is active from dawn till dusk and throughout the intervening day.  Since these mosquitoes have the unique feeding behavior we discussed above, along with being active for almost 18 hours a day, we can see how this tiny parasite can develop into an important pest for New Jersey residents.

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Can Mosquitoes in New Jersey Spread Disease?!?

Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus

             Mosquitoes have long been a pest and parasite of humans.  So much so that mosquitoes and their ability to spread infection and disease have altered human history in ways that can still be felt today.  One of the most immediate would be the summer session breaks for the US Congress. When Washington D.C. was first decided upon to be the capital of the newly formed United States the summers were a dangerous time to be along the banks of the Potomac.  The marshlands and inter-tidal spaces would support huge populations of malaria-infected mosquitoes.  One of the only safe ways to avoid being infected with malaria in the 18th and 19th centuries was to simply avoid the area for several weeks when mosquito populations were at their worst. 

            Although malaria is still a significant hazard to world-wide health (approximately one million people die every year from malaria in Africa alone!!!) its impact in the United States has been much limited from only 200 years ago.  Modernization, industrialization and urbanization have definitely cut down on the presence of mosquitoes by reducing or eliminating their breeding sites but it certainly has not eliminated these flying parasites.  Conversely, it may open up new habitat for different species of mosquitoes.  As we use landfill and bulk heading projects along the coasts to reduce saltwater breeding mosquitoes, mosquitoes that breed in small amounts of fresh or still water, like the house mosquito, will move into the area.   In short, while we may mitigate their activity and cut down on their numbers, we will probably never be able to get rid of mosquitoes all together. 

            While diseases like Malaria and Yellow Fever are the most widely known mosquito borne diseases they very rarely occur in New Jersey.  Residents of the garden state need to be concerned primarily with two distinct types of Encephalitis: Eastern Equine Encephalitis and St. Louis Encephalitis.   


Cases of EEEV in the US in 2009

  Eastern Equine Encephalitis or “EEEV” occurs along the eastern seaboard of the US and is prevalent in Southern New Jersey.  As the name implies, this disease affects horses but due to the mosquito’s feeding habits it can be passed on to humans very easily and there is generally a reservoir of the pathogen in local bird populations.  When passed to humans, symptoms can be dramatic and deadly, causing high fever, body aches, altered personality states and seizures.  Due to the nature of the vectors and hosts, EEEV can be found most often in rural areas.  Several species of mosquito will pass the EEEV from humans to animals and vice versa.  As of now, there is no cure for EEEV, and while death is a possible outcome permanent brain damage can affect any survivors. Eastern Equine Encephalitis is such a devastating disease that it was researched by the US government as a potential biological weapon before the US discontinued its bio-warfare program.   

            St. Louis Encephalitis is a disease related to EEL and while its symptoms may be less severe it is still a deadly disease for as much as 30% of those infected.  While initially St. Louis Encephalitis may present as a flu with fever and aches, in a few short days symptoms can progress to coma, tremors, occasional convulsions and spastic paralysis.  Notably, St. Louis Encephalitis is transmitted by the common House Mosquito (Culex pipens) whose close association with humans and variability of habitat causes this disease to spread rapidly and attack urban areas. 

Heart worm Life cycle

            In New Jersey, humans are not the only ones to be put in harm’s way by a mosquito bite, even our furry friends are in jeopardy!  The Dog Heartworm is spread by infected mosquitoes primarily between dogs and other canids, like foxes or coyotes, as well as ferrets, sea lions or beavers.  In areas where dog heartworm is prevalent, it may even infect cats (rarely) or humans (very infrequently).  While prevention and treatment is fairly easy for this disease, humans must still bear the burden of the cost for medication and the occasional loss of a pet when the heartworm goes undetected until the terminal stages. 

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New Jersey Ants have Nothing on These Guys!

In previous blogs we discussed a bit about our native ant species and the types of ants most frequently encountered in New Jersey.  Today, doctor we’re going to look at a few species of ant we don’t have here in New Jersey, and we should be happy we don’t!! We’ll discuss some of the scariest, most deadly and most feared ants on the planet, then count our lucky stars how they’re not here in the Garden State.

Fire Ant Stinging a Human

We’ll start off close to home with a deadly and dangerous ant that has established itself in the United States within the last century.  The Red Imported Fire Ant (Solenopsis invicta) is native to South America but due to global trade and transport has established itself in the Caribbean, the South Pacific, Australia and Asia.  Their highly aggressive nature and painful sting when defending their nests is most likely the origin of their name, as anyone who stepped on a mound can surely attest. 

When disturbed, fire ants will swarm up the legs of any animal close to the nest.  The ants don’t begin stinging immediately but instead wait a few moments allowing dozens of ants to gain a foothold on the intruder.  Once the first ant begins to bite and sting, the rest of the ants will follow en masse making the victim feel as if the ants began their attack “all at once”.  Fire Ant attacks are particularly vicious as workers will latch on with their strong jaws and sting repeatedly until removed.  Approximately 1% of the population is hypersensitive to Fire Ant venom and may have a pronounced reaction to even a few stings.  Although Fire Ants regularly overwhelm and kill small animals like rodents and lizards, the relative size and speed of humans keep a healthy person safe from succumbing to attack. 

African Driver Ant, or “Siafu”

For more information about the Red Imported Fire Ant, click here.

African Driver Ants (Dorylus spp.) are comprised of dozens of species throughout the continent and are covered under the Swahili word “Siafu”.  These driver ant colonies can number up to 20 million members and have been known to relocate as a group in a thick column of workers and soldiers that can cover up to 20 meters in an hour.  There is a significant difference in workers and soldiers in the Siafu colonies, with the soldiers being several times larger than workers with a strong and pronounced jaw structure.  Although these marching columns can easily be avoided, any sleeping animals they encounter are at grave risk.  Likewise for residents of a home that the colony may move through.  Columns of Siafu have been known to skeletonize small to mid-size livestock in a very short amount of time.

Siafu on the march!!

Native Africans have developed a healthy respect for these high powered army ants.  Many locals often look forward to Siafu columns as they will consume any pest they might encounter, offering pesticide free crop protection for local farmers.  They will also scavenge any small particles of debris they encounter, often times leaving homes and offices cleaner than when they entered.  The Massai have actually learned to utilize Siafu soldiers as emergency first aid!  Wounded Massai huntsman learned years ago that they could suture wounds by getting the Siafu soldiers to bite on either of the wound, effectively closing it.  Then the bodies of the ants are pinched off and the heads remain with jaws locked for several days allowing natural healing of the affected area.

For more information on the African Driver ant, click here.

Australian Jack Jumper Ant

The last, and possibly most dangerous ant we’ll discuss, is native to Australia, the Jack Jumper Ant (Myrmecia pilosula).  A type of Bull Ant, Jack Jumpers are voracious predators with a nasty sting comparable to wasps and hornets.  Up to 3% of the population of Australia is allergic to these ants and will suffer anaphylactic shock from even one sting.  Unlike other ants discussed in this article, Jack Jumper Ants tend to forage singly even though they are part of a colony like other ants.  This solitary behavior is a blessing in disguise to humans as multiple stings from this insect would almost certainly be fatal.   Just a quick look at the jaws of a worker Jack Jumper Ant is enough to make you happy that we’re very far from Australia. 

if you’d like more information about the jack Jumper Ant, click here.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our quick tour through this terrible trio of ant species.  The next time you see a few ants in the kitchen, I’m sure you’ll be happy that it’s only a few of our native Pavement Ants stealing from the sugar bowl and not an invading column of Siafu storming your backyard barbeque! 

If you think you might have any ant problems (hopefully the less dangerous, local kind) click here to request a free service estimate.

To download our free eBook about local ant species, click here!