"The ongoing invasion of the Asian tiger mosquito in the U.S.A. represents an important risk," agreed Diego Ruiz-Moreno, a postdoctoral associate in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology at Cornell University, who led the recent study. "Mainly because of the potential for disease to spread."
Otherwise known as Aedes albopictus, the CDC notes that the Asian tiger mosquito was first spotted on the U.S. mainland in 1985. Since that initial Houston sighting, it has spread across 26 states, moving as far north as Chicago, as far east as Pennsylvania and New Jersey, as far west as Nebraska, and across a broad swath of the South, including Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee.
And now, Hamer said, California has been added to the list.
"The thing about this particular species is that it breeds and travels very well in small warm container environments," with an uncanny ability to adapt and thrive in shifting temperatures, he explained. "And it turns out that humans are really good at providing those spaces. A tire, a flower pot, a bucket, urns at cemeteries. All these are classic holders of stagnant water, which is all they need to hop from one country to another, one state to another."
And so, Hamer noted, "it's been going everywhere. Europe, certain parts of Africa, South America, and now here," where its aggressive mating habits have run roughshod over other local mosquito populations (such as the yellow fever mosquito), essentially replacing one illness-bearing mosquito threat with another.
But has the Asian tiger mosquito's troublesome potential really lived up to its hype?
"I would say that for the moment, while the concern is real and we should be paying a lot of attention to this particular mosquito, so far it doesn't seem to be playing a major pathogen-spreading role in the U.S.," Hamer suggested.
"Chikungunya hasn't come to the U.S. yet, and that's comforting. At the same time, this is a very aggressive mosquito that feeds during the day, rather than from dusk to dawn, which is different from the way West Nile virus was spread, by a mosquito that fed at night. So we're talking about the need for a kind of all-day vigilance against getting bitten that the American public is not really familiar with," he pointed out.