This article is about Asian tigers you don’t see at the zoo, if you’re lucky. If you live in the northeast, this is going to be a cruel, cruel summer for mosquitoes. Actually, it’ll be crueler for you than the mosquitoes. Experts now say that an aggressive invasive species called the Asian Tiger Mosquito is swarming the region.
The Asian Tiger Mosquito: Pretty, Dangerous, and Pretty Dangerous
If you can call mosquitoes pretty, the Asian tiger mosquito is, with a black body with multiple white stripes like a tiger. It’s so tiny, though, you’d need a magnifying glass to appreciate it, and by then it’s already bitten you and gone on its merry way.
The Asian Tiger mosquito, originally from tropical southeast Asia, is now found in 27 states, Europe, and South America. It first arrived in this country in 1986, in a shipment of tires. It doesn’t have to live in wetlands, so it closely associates with human communities, and that’s bad news.
Most mosquito bites occur in the dawn or dusk hours, but this species is active and continues to bite all day long, even in the middle of that barbecue you’re having. It’s dangerous because it can transmit more than 20 diseases, including West Nile fever, dengue fever, yellow fever, St. Louis encephalitis, and a number of others. The Asian Tiger Mosquito does not, however, carry malaria; a different genus known as Anopheles is the culprit.
Asian Tiger Mosquitoes and Heartworm
Tiger mosquitoes are also transmitters of a parasitic round worm that causes heartworm in dogs and cats. They even bite birds. The Asian tiger mosquito has a rapid bite that allows it to escape most attempts to swat it.
The Asian Tiger mosquito is one of the 100 world’s worst invasive species, according to the Global Invasive Species Database.
Only female mosquitoes of any species bite. Blood is necessary for the development of the female’s eggs. The male primarily feeds on nectar like a hummingbird.
The Asian tiger mosquito female lays her eggs near water, not directly into it like other mosquitoes; typically close to a stagnant pool. However, any open container with a little water will suffice for larvae development, even a bottle cap. It can also breed in running water, so stagnant pools of water are not its only possible breeding sites. It has a short flight range, spending its entire life within 175 yards of where it was born. If you’ve been bitten, it’s likely it was born right nearby.
How do mosquitoes find their prey (that’s you)? Here are some factors that play important roles:
1) Carbon dioxide from exhaled breath.
2) Organic substances produced by your skin, like fatty acids, ammonia, and lactic acid.
4) Visual cues (dark colors in daylight).
Asian Tiger mosquitoes are always on the search for a victim but, unlike other mosquitoes, are cautiously persistent when it comes to their blood meal. They often break it off short without enough blood ingested for the development of their eggs. You might think this is good, but this is why Asian tiger mosquitoes bite multiple hosts, making them particularly efficient at transmitting diseases.
The fact that they bite different species enables the Asian tiger mosquito to be a vector for certain viruses and other disease causing organisms that can jump species boundaries. West Nile Virus is one of these.
The Asian tiger mosquito Eggs can sometimes tolerate snow and temperatures under freezing in certain circumstances, which explains their success even in places like the state of Maine.
The control of the Asian tiger mosquito begins with destroying the places where the female lay her eggs. Since they are weak flyers, this is never far from where people are being bitten. Locate puddles that last more than three days, sagging or plugged roof gutters, old tires holding water (which is how they got here in the first place), bird baths or other possible containers or pools of standing water. Flower pots, knotholes and other crevices that can collect water should be filled with sand to discourage mosquitoes from laying their eggs in them.
If you have standing water that can’t be drained, you can treat it with properly labeled insecticides like DEET or something called Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (BT). BT or “Bti” often comes in what’s called a “mosquito dunk”. Bti is a bacterium that produces toxins which are effective in killing larvae of mosquitoes and certain other biting bugs. Interestingly, It has almost no effect on other organisms. Bti products can be found at just about any garden or pool supply store.
If you have a pond with minnows, you might have an answer, because the fish eat the mosquito larvae. Dragonflies, like we have here in sunny Florida, are also an excellent method of imposing control. Dragonfly larvae eat mosquito larvae in the water, and adults dragonflies will snatch adult mosquitoes as they fly.
Other methods of protecting yourself against the Asian tiger and other mosquitoes include:
- Monitoring the screens on your retreat windows and doors and repairing any holes or defects.
- Being careful to avoid outside activities at dusk or dawn. This is the time that mosquitos are most active.
- Wear long pants and shirts whenever you venture outside.
- Wear light colors
- Have a good stockpile of insect repellants, like DEET
If you are reluctant to use chemical repellants, you may consider natural remedies. Plants that contain Citronella may be rubbed on your skin to discourage bites. You may have to re-apply frequently.
Essential oils other than Citronella that may be effective are:
- Lemon Eucalyptus oil
- Cinnamon oil
- Peppermint oil
- Geranium oil
- Clove oil
- Rosemary oil
We are obliged to say that the FDA has not approved essential oils as a cure or treatment for any disease.
For treatment, there are all sorts of benzocaine anesthetic sprays and antiseptic sprays on the market, but anything alkaline on the bite area, like baking soda paste or even toothpaste, will give some relief.
Of course, there’s always Benadryl (diphenhydramine) cream or tablets, although the 50 mg dose will make you drowsy. Mosquito bites will leave you itchy, but scratching the area will increase your chances of developing an infection at the site.
Now, I haven’t tried this yet, but I’ve heard someone swear that placing the back of a hot spoon (I said hot, not flaming) on a mosquito bite confuses your nerve ending and decreases the histaminic response of your body, and therefore the itching. Be careful if you try this one, though, as you might burn yourself.
So why are YOU getting bitten and no one else is? There are several possibilities:
1) Mosquitoes are more active when the moon is full, probably due to the dusk-like quality of the light.
2) Mosquitoes are twice as likely to land on people with type 0 blood than those with type A. Sucks for me, to use a mosquito metaphor, as I’m O positive.
3) The nasty smell of dirty feet is, apparently, irresistible to mosquitoes. A brave subject sat in a lab in his boxers to find out which parts of the body they are most likely to bite. 75 percent landed on his feet. Washing his feet caused the mosquitos to land in a more random pattern.
4) Drinking beer can increase your risk of being bitten, according to a study done by the American Mosquito Control Association. (Why can’t I be a part of the fun studies?)
5) Dark-colored clothing can increase your chances of getting bitten. One study compared how attracted mosquitos were to different colors: black was the most attractive, followed by red. Blues seemed to be about neutral. O.D. green, khaki, and yellow seem to be the most protective colors.
6) Women in late pregnancy get bitten about twice as often as women who aren’t pregnant, according to a study conducted in Africa. The theory is that, since very pregnant women tend to be out of breath, they exhale more carbon dioxide. Mosquito attention is, in part, triggered by carbon dioxide.
7) Using similar logic, you’re more likely to be bitten when you exercise than when you are at rest, (you’re breathing faster and sweating). In fact, physical exertion increases the risk for bites by up to 50 percent.
This is Joe Alton, M.D. aka Dr. Bones, wishing you the best of health in good times or bad!