Personnel Image

Written By

Bianca de Loryn

College

College of Science and Engineering

Publish Date

18 August 2020

20 August is World Mosquito Day

JCU PhD student Tom Swan researches tiger mosquitos in the Torres Strait, in order to better protect Australia from the bite of one of the most aggressive mosquitos in the world.

The ‘tiger mosquito’ (Aedes albopictus), native to South East Asia, is considered a true ‘globe-trotter’, having hitchhiked on planes and ships to colonise nearly every continent. This mosquito is troublesome, with a demonstrated ability to transmit dengue and chikungunya viruses where it has colonised.

JCU PhD student Tom Swan became interested in mosquitos when he was volunteering at Tonga High School in the Kingdom of Tonga in 2012. “Mosquitos still spread the greatest number of viruses to humans, more than any other animal,” Tom says. “They are still, arguably, the deadliest animal on Earth.” It is estimated that more than 700,000 people die each year from mosquito borne diseases.

Invasive mosquitos on illegal fishing boats

After completing his Master of Water Resource Management, during which he researched mosquito species in the Kingdom of Tonga, Tom enrolled as a PhD student at JCU to help protect Australia from the tiger mosquito.

In Australia, the tiger mosquito was first discovered in the Torres Strait in 2005. “Multiple lines of evidence have indicated the source of the invasion to be from Indonesia,” Tom says. “Adult mosquitoes were first hypothesised by University of Queensland Associate Professor Nigel Beebe to have likely been accidentally transported on Indonesian fishing vessels, illegally fishing in the Torres Strait.”

Tom Swan
Torres Strait Sunset
Doing research in the Torres Strait

To date, Queensland Health tiger mosquito control program on Thursday Island and Horn Island has been highly successful in preventing the spread of the tiger mosquito to the Australian mainland. “However, it may only be a matter of time before the tiger mosquito gains a foothold on the mainland,” Tom says. “We need to improve our surveillance system by using population genetics and novel trapping systems.”

This work is being undertaken by Tom, colleagues from the JCU Mosquito-Borne Diseases Group, Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine (AITHM) and the University of Melbourne. Together they are investigating novel ways to improve surveillance capacity against tiger mosquitoes.

We have been investigating various avenues in modern biology, including next-generation sequencing to examine tiger mosquito movement in the Torres Strait, novel trapping techniques involving using sound as a lure for capturing tiger mosquito males and investigating the sugar-feeding behaviour of tiger mosquitoes, as rationale for developing attractive targeted sugar baits.
JCU PhD student Tom Swan

Keeping the peace in Australia’s backyards

“Tiger mosquitoes have been listed in the World’s 100 Worst Invasive Species List,” Tom says.

“In areas where this mosquito has colonised, it has been nicknamed the ‘barbeque killer’ by Nigel Beebe – for its aggression and ability to persistently bite humans. Additional to the public health concerns, is the threat that this mosquito may seriously compromise Australia’s alfresco lifestyle, a cornerstone of most people’s weekends.”

Are you interested in making a difference? Find out what you can do with JCU Public Health and Tropical Medicine.