July 26, 2023

Invasive mosquito that can carry West Nile virus detected in Calgary and Edmonton

Vet med researchers say northern house mosquito appears to thrive in our cities and farms
Culex Pipiens feeding.
Culex pipiens feeding. Fabrizio Montarsi

There’s a new mosquito buzzing around Calgary, and University of Calgary researchers expect that as our climate continues to change, it's here to stay.

UCalgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine’s (UCVM) professor Dr. John Soghigian, PhD, is leading a team studying the invasive northern house mosquito, Culex pipiens. His lab is working with integrated pest management technicians with The City of Calgary and City of Edmonton to understand the public health implications of the mosquito which is now making its home in our backyards.

Culex pipiens is native to Europe and Asia, and until recently was thought to only be found in coastal British Columbia and eastern Canada. That changed in 2018, when the City of Edmonton first detected the mosquito. Last year, students in the Soghigian lab worked with The City of Calgary and found Culex pipiens in Calgary for the first time.

No one actually likes mosquitoes, but what does that mean for Albertans?

“This is a different kind of mosquito from what we normally have here in Alberta,” says Soghigian. “Most of our normal mosquitoes in Alberta use flooded areas or snow melt to develop in. The northern house mosquito lives alongside us in cities or farms, and uses things like bird baths, water troughs, and really any water we might leave out to develop in. In other parts of the world, it also transmits West Nile virus.”

West Nile virus can cause a potentially deadly disease in humans and other animals, like horses. Luckily, cases of West Nile are rare in Alberta, and Soghigian cautions that we do not yet know how this mosquito might change that. Hopefully, it’s just another nuisance to deal with in our warmer months.

However, the mosquito isn’t only surviving in Edmonton and Calgary, it appears to be thriving. This is a mosquito that does well the warmer and drier it is — conditions which we expect we’ll see more of with climate change — and the mosquito’s activity appears to be higher this year.

“We found the mosquito more than a month earlier this year in Calgary than last year, and we are now finding it all across the city,” Soghigian says.

How to keep Culex pipiens out of your backyard

If you’re looking for something to do to help keep this mosquito from making its home in your backyard, look around outside. Change the water on bird feeders, watering cans, or larger dog bowls a couple of times a week, and this should drastically reduce the chance of the mosquito developing on your property. And if you’re concerned about mosquito-borne diseases, bug spray when out at dawn or at night is always a safe bet, protecting you from this mosquito and all the others found in Alberta.

Moving forward, Soghigian and his team are monitoring mosquito traps and are working with The City of Calgary to better track the mosquito throughout the city and understand how it is thriving so well here in Alberta. More information to come. But for now, with a few simple actions you can stop these mosquitoes from ruining your next family barbeque.

The larvae of Culex pipens form dense groups in standing water before undergoing metamorphosis into adults.

The larvae of Culex pipens form dense groups in standing water before undergoing metamorphosis into adults.

James Gathany, CDC

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