They’re tiny. They’re hungry. And they’re invading the city.
An invasive mosquito species called the Aedes is spreading at an alarming rate throughout Long Beach and Southern California, causing concern over possible disease outbreaks in the near future.
Known as the “ankle biter,” the Aedes has been making its home in Southern California over the last several years.
In Long Beach, the non-native species was first detected last year in the northwest corner of the city. This season they’re everywhere.
“They’ve colonized all the ZIP codes,” said Lamar Rush, a supervisor for the Long Beach Health Department’s Vector Control Program. “It started with a few calls last year, and this year it’s just exploded.”
Los Angeles County so far has seen two types of Aedes: the Asian Tiger Mosquito, native to Southeast Asia, and the Yellow Fever Mosquito, native to Africa. Both are found throughout the world.
And they’re troubling for many reasons.
While the region’s native Culex mosquito mainly feeds on birds, the Aedes prefers people, making them particularly aggressive.
They usually bite around the legs and ankles and feed during the day, whereas the Culex is nocturnal.
“They’re tiny so most people don’t even notice them until it’s too late,” Rush said. “Their bites are very itchy.”
There’s also the breeding habits.
The Cluex prefers to lay her eggs in clustered rafts on standing water. If you dump out the water, the eggs will dry up and die.
The Aedes attaches her eggs to a wall and covers them with a protective seal. If the water source dries up, the eggs can survive for years until they’re reactivated.
She only needs a tiny amount of space and water.
Office plants, flowerpots or even a discarded bottle cap with sprinkler water will do, said Susanne Kluh, the scientific and technical services director for the Greater Los Angeles County Vector Control District, which oversees mosquito abatement in East Long Beach.
“We can’t even begin to describe what kind of a problem this poses,” she said.
Kluh said the problem began about two years ago and has been getting “exponentially worse.” In 2014, they would trap about five Aedes mosquitos a week in the county. Now they’re logging around 40 a night.
The county hotline to report mosquito bites is receiving about 1,400 calls each month, compared to around 150 calls in previous years, she added.
“The only good news is that they haven’t currently transmitted any diseases and they don’t fly very far,” Kluh said.
But if the problem persists, she said, Southern California could have an outbreak of diseases never before seen in the region.
The Aedes can transmit Dengue fever, Zika and yellow fever, while the Culex can only carry West Nile virus.
For now, health officials are working on abatement in gutters and storm drains and reminding the public to be vigilant about any standing water in their yards.
The area will get some relief when breeding season ends this month, but Kluh said she’s expecting another record mosquito season next year.
“I’m afraid I don’t have much hope that it’s going to be any better,” she said.
Here are tips to prevent mosquito breeding around the home:
- Empty any containers filled with water in and around the home.
- Clean and scrub bird baths and pet water bowls at least once a week.
- Dump water from potted plant saucers.
- Clean and chlorinate swimming pools, and drain water from pool covers.
- Limit the watering of lawns and outdoor plants.
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