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Asian mosquito approaching UK shores

27 April 2012, by Adele Walker

Climate change is likely to make northern Europe, including the UK, increasingly hospitable for a mosquito which has potential to transmit a range of infectious diseases.

Asian tiger mosquito

A female Aedes albopictus mosquito feeding on a human host.

New research by the University of Liverpool and the Health Protection Agency used observations and models to see how recent and simulated climate change might make Europe more favourable for the invasive Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus.

The results suggest that warmer, wetter winters in the future are likely to allow the mosquito to settle further north across Europe. Warmer, drier summers could make southern Europe less suitable. This new study is the first to consider the impact of climate change from 1950 onwards, as well as other environmental factors, on the insect's distribution.

This is the first time a set of regional climate models have been used to map the climate suitability for this mosquito in Europe, explains Dr Cyril Caminade, lead author of the report which is published in the Royal Society's journal Interface.

'This study will help to advise on potential future risks of a range of infectious diseases,' he adds.

A. albopictus first arrived in Europe from south-east Asia in the 1970s. While its presence does not mean disease inevitably follows, A. albopictus was responsible for outbreaks of chikungunya fever in Italy in 2007 and a small number of cases of both chikungunya and dengue fever in France in 2010. It can also transmit other diseases, including West Nile virus, yellow fever, St Louis encephalitis and a parasitic worm that affects animals.


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Asian tiger mosquito

Like other species, the Asian tiger mosquito needs water to breed, but it does not need much – a temporary puddle in a tree hole is good enough in its native environment. This means it can easily spread in urban areas, using water that's gathered in man-made containers, discarded tyres being a particular favourite.

Once deposited, its drought-resistant eggs have been known to survive for around eight months until the arrival of the warm, wet conditions they need to hatch.

While this may still not be long enough to survive a long cold spell between laying and hatching, this resilience has allowed the mosquito to spread rapidly over recent decades with the increase in the world-wide transport of goods, in particular used tyres and plants.

If those goods end up somewhere cold that's the end of the story. But as the climate changes, more countries that used to be too cold are gradually becoming warm enough to give the mosquito a foothold.

To find out just how far and how fast this might happen, the researchers ran three
mosquito distribution models and compared the results with recent measurements of
field observations of the distribution of A. albopictus across Europe. They used the models to see how suitability for the mosquito might change up to 2050.

Today A. albopictus flourishes mainly around the Mediterranean and Adriatic coasts, ranging from eastern Spain, north to southern Switzerland, and west to south-eastern Bulgaria.

The results confirmed that over recent decades the climate has become increasingly favourable over southern UK and other northern European countries but has become less suitable further south, especially during recent droughts in southern Spain.

Future projections show that increased winter rainfall over northern Europe, together with generally higher temperatures, might allow the mosquito to survive European winters that until recently have been far too cold.

Hotter, dryer summers are likely to reduce the risk further south in Europe, but the mosquito can survive in water butts and vases, so the researchers caution that it could survive droughts in urban areas.

Nevertheless, the study does not take into account all the variables that might influence the mosquito's northward march. Factors like vegetation and soil conditions, and climate extremes like storms and dry spells, might limit its spread.

Cyril Caminade, Jolyon M Medlock, Els Ducheyne, K Marie McIntyre, Steve Leach, Matthew Baylis & Andrew P Morse. Suitability of European climate for the Asian tiger mosquito Aedes albopictus: recent trends and future scenarios. Journal of the Royal Society Interface, April 2012. doi: 10.1098/rsif.2012.0138

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Your comments

I dont know how seriously this should be taken, science has become a tabloid weapon for mass panic these days and somehow I cannot trust it as I previously have. Judging by the way this article is written seems to me rather vague and not stated on fact but speculation (well may be tomorrow or in the next ten thousand years a comet will hit the earth but we are not quite sure about it, yet).

mera, london
Friday, 27 April 2012 - 08:37

Ive just had to come inside as there are so many of the dam things in my garden. I dont fancy getting bitten to death by them

stewart, worthing west sussex uk
Friday, 27 April 2012 - 19:51

we had one just like that in our lounge last night, and I am from the Midlands. I did manage to get a photo too

gill haywood, United Kingdom
Friday, 27 July 2012 - 08:15

Had one in the kitchen today. It bit my friend. The bite was painful. I live in the south-east of the UK. Are the Health Authorities tracking this problem?

Gwenyth G Leaver, United Kingdom
Monday, 30 July 2012 - 22:21

I've only been living in the east midlands for a couple of years. My parents are from the Phililppines and I have spent a lot of time on holidays/working around Japan, China and Thailand.

This evening, I woke up very itchy. Scratching different parts of my body repeatedly in my sleep and eventually woke up due to a buzzing noise.

I switched the light on, checked my body and recognised the bite marks on my body (x5). I wasn't too sure could be biting me? We are too far south to have midges as per Scotland but realised it was a single bastard mosquito. The intelligence of these Mosquitos isn't on a level as the ones I'm used to in Asia but a pain never the less.

I can confirm that the image supports what I just killed! I am going to check for stagnant water around my garden tomorrow, that's for sure!

Darryl, East midlands
Tuesday, 31 July 2012 - 02:47

Well i have kill more than 20 mosquitoes this year and not small ones and im in leicester had two today caught one in a glass to take close look and its deffo a tiger all the pics match what i caught and have been killing there hear already!!

chris, leicestershire
Wednesday, 5 September 2012 - 02:26