New mosquito cause for alarm

THE Hunter has become home to a blood-sucking invader which has turned the usual mosquito season on its head, and it's got nothing to do with climate change or the mild winter.

Meet Culex molestus, a golden-coloured mosquito that has made its home not in the marshes of Hexham swamp, but right in the city and its suburbs, every day of the year.

Commonly known among scientists as the London Underground Mosquito, it has researchers concerned because little is known about its capacity to carry and transmit disease to humans.

A team of researchers at the University of Sydney has been studying the Culex molestus for three years and has trapped many of them around Newcastle's port.

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Chief mosquito researcher Dr Cameron Webb said they were also common around the old septic tanks on council sporting fields, and have become increasingly common in the suburbs.

They certainly have a bite, Dr Webb said, but "they're not flying hypodermic needles" either.

"One of the most important findings of this study was that an analysis of weekly mosquito trapping indicated that this mosquito remains active over the cooler months, whereas all other mosquitoes disappear during winter.

"It's unique in that it prefers to live in underground environments but there are now concerns regarding the role it may play in the transmission of mosquito-borne viruses in Australian cities," he said.

The Culex molestus gained its common name after it was discovered feasting on Londoners who took shelter in the underground subways during the WWII bombings.

It is thought to have entered Australia from Japan around the same time.

Though it is not as big as the Hunter's better known mozzie, the Hexham grey, the molestus is causing as much alarm.

"We just don't know enough about them, and we need to know more about them and their capacity to carry disease, including Ross River virus, Barmah Forest virus and the (relatively new) West Nile virus which broke out in North America last year," Dr Webb said.

"The implication from this research is that local authorities must be mindful of this mosquito's ability to exploit unexpected underground habitats.

"As we increase water storages in metropolitan regions of Australia, we must be careful not to create new underground habitats for this pest."

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