Crowder professor, students find dangerous mosquitos in Barry County
Professor: 'It's a species that can be controlled through education'
David Jamieson, biology professor at Crowder College Cassville, wants to educate Barry County residents about an insect of Southeast Asian origin — the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus) — that has been documented in local backyards, and is a potential vector of exotic viruses.
The mosquito, which is distinguished by its small size, salt-and-pepper-colored body, and a stripe along its back, prefers to lay its eggs in small areas such as flower pots, dog bowls, bird baths, swimming pools and discarded tires.
"Really, any small container in suburban back yards capable of holding water for about two weeks is a potential Aedes albopictus breeding site," said Jamieson. "I once collected hundreds of tiger mosquito larvae from a plastic swimming pool that had been discarded in a back yard here in Cassville. "The female then has only a short flight to your veins, which contain the energy-rich food she needs to make eggs."
As one of the principle vectors of the Zika virus, as well as dengue hemorrhagic fever and encephalitis, the diminutive mosquito is being closely monitored by the Centers for Disease Control and most state public health departments.
In 2016, Jamieson and two Crowder students, Olivia Jamieson and Joanna Moreland, published an article about mosquitos of the region in the Journal of the Arkansas Academy of Science, entitled 'An Adult Female Mosquito Survey in Southwest Missouri in 2014. In the study, students collected mosquito samples from four sites within the city limits in Cassville, Washburn, Monett and Crane. Six students made a total of 42 collections, between June 4 and Sept. 25. A total of 216 specimens were collected, representing 11 species and five genera.
The study found that the Asian tiger mosquito represented the highest population of mosquitos at 44.9 percent, with A. Trivittatus at 17.6 percent, and Culex Erraticus, a West Nile vector, at 11.1 percent.
It is believed that the Asian tiger mosquito, native to Southeast Asian countries such as Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Japan, migrated to North America by hitching a ride in the automobile tire trade. The adult female will only lay its eggs in small, artificial containers of water, which mimic its original tree hole habitat used by its ancestors, versus large bodies of water like native species.
"It arrived in Houston, Texas, around 1985, and took about 15 years to get here," said Jamieson, who has a master's in zoology, has been teaching at Crowder since 2010 and has published between 30 to 40 articles.
"I'm a zoologist, so I've studied everything from mosquitos to grey wolves," he said. "I think the mosquito has probably been in Cassville area about 10 years, but no one's taken the time to document it. I think this is something the public should be aware of."
In April 2016, Jamieson presented the mosquito findings to the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, and because of its ability to transmit diseases such as Zika, the Missouri Department of Health has invited him to present his findings.
The elderly, the very young, and those with compromised immune systems are most susceptible of contracting a virus, but the pathogen, or infected person, must be present first, Jamieson said.
"If the Zika virus isn't here, the mosquito can't transmit it," he said. "In order to get a viral disease like Zika, you have to be exposed to the virus, and the vector. Both have to be present. And, in order to have an outbreak, an infected person has to make their way to Barry County, then if someone is bitten, we might have a problem. The health department is just concerned about the potential. There have been no major disease outbreaks here, but people need to know that a disease vector is present.
"It's more about education than anything. I think people who live in Barry County should know that the mosquito that's biting their children has the potential to vector exotic diseases."
Jamieson said the mosquito's population can be reduced by cleaning up yards and not allowing standing water to accumulate, promoting breeding sites.
"This mosquito should only lay eggs in small containers, so it's a species that can be controlled through education, and by people cleaning up their backyards," he said. "This behavior actually makes this species of mosquito very controllable. If you have a mosquito problem in your neighborhood, residents making a concerted effort to clean up all potential breeding sites will reduce population levels in the next year significantly. Although this mosquito is probably here to stay, more effective control through education is an attainable goal."
Residents can also take measures to avoid being bitten, such as wearing long-sleeved clothing, using a bug repellent, and limiting time outdoors.
"It is a notoriously weak flyer so typically bites from the knees down," Jamieson said. "If you have a mosquito-infested area, you clean up your neighborhood, and if that's not possible, then you cover yourself, use a bug repellent, or you don't go outside."
The Barry County Health Department echoes Jamieson's advice.
"We always advise everyone not to leave standing water to prevent mosquito breeding areas," said Roger Brock, administrator. "Residents can turn over containers like trash cans with water in it, not allow boat covers to let rain water sit. Anywhere where there is standing water for a period of time can turn into a breeding ground. We can never get rid of them, but if we take precautions, we lessen our risk for exposure, for sure."
Jamieson said he is often asked, "Why didn't we have this problem 20 years ago?"
"I try to explain, 'An immigrant from Asia came here,' he said. "All kinds of things have been brought here — the European sparrow, the Norway and black rat, and the house mouse, are all exotic."
For more information, or to speak to Jamieson about a mosquito-infested area, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.