Photo via the CDC
Last year when I lived above the tire shop, I got in the habit of scanning my bedroom ceiling and walls—hunting for tigers, armed with just a magazine. Thanks to ill-fitting window screens, every night that summer was a bloodletting. Even though I was the killer, my own blood was spilled, swat by swat.
New York had fallen to the invasive tiger mosquito, and my magazine murder method wasn’t nearly enough to keep the rapacious little bastards away. Until the frost did what I never could— and killed them all—my arms and legs were covered in bites. I wondered how safe it was to burn a citronella candle indoors.
If you’ve been outside this summer, or visit that old apartment above the tire shop, you’ve no doubt seen them. They’re striped and seem bigger than other mosquitoes, and they’re flourishing in New York’s pooled water. With the torrential rainfall of the last few weeks, they should be coming up by the swarm.
The tiger mosquito originated in Asia, and spread throughout the world via the international tire trade. It was first found in Texas in 1985, and worked its way over to Florida and up the East Coast, arriving and flourishing in New York in the last few years. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in water but the hardy tiger mosquito doesn’t need much water. “This mosquito can breed in a bottle cap,” said Pete Rendine, chief inspector for Bergen County, NJ’s Mosquito Control.
Attracted by the city’s heat bubble, sustained by the city’s mild winters and given plenty of places to breed, New York is prime mosquito territory. As of 2012, there is a tiger mosquito for every five New Yorkers; when this ratio gets flipped, the tiger mosquito will go from nuisance to danger.
Beyond being aggressive and annoying, tiger mosquitoes are also vectors for serious diseases—like Dengue fever and chikinguya, a nonfatal virus that causes joint pain and can last for years. A chikinguya outbreak in 2005-06 on the French island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean was spread through the tiger mosquito. While the tiger mosquito has been shown to be capable of carrying the West Nile virus in the lab, it hasn't been found in the wild with the West Nile.
City officials have found West Nile in mosquitoes in Staten Island and Queens for the first time this year. There are no human cases yet, but given West Nile's annual appearance in the city, and the constant nagging presence of the tiger mosquito, they may overlap yet.
The tiger mosquito and the diseases it carries with ease is showing up in Europe too. The French department of health has confirmed that the moustique tigre is in 17 departments, down in the balmy Mediterranean south. The French minister of health said that there is no outbreak of Dengue or chikinguya at the moment, but the mosquito network is priming the continent for an even bigger outbreak than the one in Italy in 2007.
Global warming, which is already making summer miserable for everyone, is terraforming more and more territory for the tiger mosquito, and letting it hang around deeper into fall.
The tiger mosquito is currently ranked as the fourth worst invasive species, below a shrub, a mussel and an Indian myna bird. Still, I would've rather been up at night scanning the ceiling of the apartment above the tire shop for any of those, rather than waking up the next morning itching, as I did. Even though I moved out of that place to one with fewer mosquitoes and old tires, it bums me out to think that the tiger mosquito was just getting settled in New York that summer. Things are only going to get worse.