Fierce biters and daytime fliers, Asian tiger mosquitoes are settling in and making Long Island home.
While the numbers Islandwide are small compared to other types, such as the northern house mosquito, the presence of the Asian tiger increased more than 220 percent in female mosquito samples collected and tested from 2010 to 2012 in Nassau and Suffolk counties, based on figures from both county health departments.
The Asian tiger represented 7.74 percent of all mosquitoes collected in Nassau County for testing in 2010, according to the county's health department. That nearly doubled to 14.12 percent in 2012.
In Suffolk, its presence for the same time range rose from 0.9 percent to 4.8 percent of the total numbers collected and tested, based on county health department figures.
"They are aggressive biters of humans and other mammals," said Scott Campbell, lab chief of the Suffolk County health department's arthropod-borne disease laboratory.
While primarily mammal feeders, a small percentage of Asian tiger females do munch on birds, he said, meaning they can be carriers of West Nile virus. Only female mosquitoes bite and suck blood; hence they, not males, are the disease transmitters, Campbell said.
First spotted in Texas in the 1980s, the Asian tigers likely arrived in the country in scrap tire shipments from Asia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Named tigers because of their black and white stripes, they were initially spotted on Long Island 10 years ago. According to Mary Ellen Laurain, spokeswoman for the Nassau County Department of Health, the Asian tiger was first identified in the county through routine surveillance activities in 2003. In Suffolk, the first showed up in a mosquito trap put out by the county in 2004, Campbell said. They have been moving and have now spread into Brookhaven Town, with a few spotted on the South Fork, he said.
While some Asian tiger samples have indicated the presence of West Nile virus, that doesn't necessarily mean the species is "good at transmitting it," said Bryon Backenson, director of the New York State Department of Health's vector surveillance unit.
"Very efficient in other parts of the world" in transmitting diseases such as yellow fever and dengue, the Asian tiger is being watched, he said, to determine what impact it might have on public health here.
If you haven't made their acquaintance yet, you may have a better chance as the summer progresses, as their numbers peaked last year in late August, Campbell said.
Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann of Babylon can vouch for their presence on two fronts. First, she's community coordinator of the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program. Second, she's been the reluctant host to a swarm of Asian tigers in her yard for the past two weeks.
To no avail, she said, she has searched the yard for even the smallest of containers holding standing water, where they could be breeding. "They fly during the day and they are relentless biters," she said.
On Monday she got five bites on her ankles in a three-minute period, she said, on her porch.
With the unwelcome pests most plentiful in late afternoon, Gangloff-Kaufmann said, "I feel like I'm leading a little parade when I walk through the yard."