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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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