Ferocious Tiger Mosquito Invades the United States

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The tiger looks so different that it's easily identified by even the casual observer. It's black with white stripes, thus its name.

And it is on the move, big time.

The first wave of the invasion began in Houston in 1985 when some of the mosquitoes hatched out of eggs believed to have been transported to this country from Asia in old tires bound for recycling.

In about a year it was already in Jacksonville, Florida, and "within the next eight years it had spread to every county in Florida," Alto says. Within two decades it was firmly entrenched as far north as Pennsylvania and the upper Midwest.

The tiger's lifestyle helped facilitate that rapid migration.

Tigers are known as "container breeders," meaning they don't need a nice lagoon to bear their young. Instead, they prefer smaller pockets of moisture, like holes in trees that collect rainwater. In fact, any container will do, especially old tires because they are so good at retaining moisture, according to Phil Lounibos, professor of entomology at the University of Florida, who has spent several years researching the mosquito.

That affinity for small containers made the tiger especially adaptable to human society, because we always seem to be leaving something around that collects a little rainfall and makes a perfect habitat for zillions of mosquito eggs.

Mosquitoes Hitch Rides With Humans

The population of tiger mosquitoes just "took off," Lounibos says, "partly because of its ability to hitch rides with human transport systems."

So when some community in the South collected its old tires and sent them off somewhere else for recycling, they most likely sent along an uninvited guest.

Until the research by Alto and Juliano, it had been thought that the tiger's range would be limited, but it now appears that if current warming trends continue, that range could be expanded, possibly even into Canada, Alto says.

In areas where it has become firmly established, Lounibos says, the tiger has displaced the most common mosquitoes found in those areas.

That could prove unfortunate because the tiger is likely to be far harder to get rid of than many other mosquitoes. Since it prefers some sort of a container, like an old tin can or a hole in a tree, for its birthing area you can't eradicate it by simply draining water out of a swamp.

"Control is difficult because a percentage of the population still deposits its eggs in the natural containers that formed the major habitat for its ancestors," concludes a research paper from Rutgers University. It might help to get rid of tin cans and old tires "but gaining access to larvae that are developing in treeholes is an almost impossible task," the report says.

However, it doesn't look like the tiger will take over the whole country.

Additional research by Alto and Juliano, which will be published in a couple of months, shows that the tiger doesn't mind the heat, as long as it's moist. But it can't stand the heat if it's dry.

That's probably why the first wave of mosquitoes to leave Texas headed east to humid Florida instead of west to arid Arizona.

But chances are more of the country will become palatable to them if it does indeed become warmer and wetter.

Maybe they'll even make it up to Alaska, where the mosquito is the unofficial state bird.

Copyright 2001 ABCNews.com

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