Michael Reiskind, Ph.D., found inspiration for entomological research at a gas station.
“Several years ago, I noticed an Aedes albopictus adult resting on the water in a windshield wash basin at a gas station,” he says. “Closer inspection revealed that she was just emerging from a pupa, which means that these habitats were capable of producing mosquitoes. I thought it was pretty cool and then habitually looked into those basins whenever I got gas. After realizing that this was pretty common, I decided to try to put some numbers to it.”
Those numbers are now published research, reported this week in the Journal of Medical Entomology. Reiskind, assistant professor of public health entomology at North Carolina State University, and doctoral student Kristen Hopperstad surveyed 30 gas stations near Raleigh, North Carolina, with filled windshield wash basins and found mosquito larvae, pupae, and emerging adults at nearly one-third of them. The two species present in their survey were Aedes albopicus and Culex quinquefasciatus.
The research does not suggest that gas stations are hot zones for mosquito breeding, but rather that windshield wash basins are yet one more example of manmade containers that mosquitoes can utilize for laying eggs—and a surprising one at that, given the presence of soapy, cloudy liquid in the basins.
“I think this study is a testament to the resilience of the mosquito and how adapted they are to us,” Reiskind says.
Ae. albopictus was more commonly found in clearer liquid in basins, while Cx. quinquefasciatus was found in basin liquid of a wide range of color and cloudiness. “I was surprised that we found Cx. quinquefasciatus in all kinds of windshield wash basins, including some that seemed to have high levels of detergent. But, then again, this is a species that is known to occupy highly polluted—with organic matter—habitats and might just be very tolerant of adverse chemical environments,” Reiskind says.
Mosquito larvae that might be transferred to a car windshield in the course of washing would be highly unlikely to survive the ensuing travel of the car when it leaves a station, says Reiskind, but adults emerging from windshield wash basins could plausibly enter cars and be transported to other locations. More in-depth research would be needed, however, to assess what role, if any, gas stations might play in mosquito dispersal. The study that Reiskind and Hopperstad conducted was small, localized, and done late mosquito season, they note. But it nevertheless presents gas station windshield wash basins as a potential convenient source of surveying for mosquito species.
“I would like to use some of the population genetic skills we have in the lab to ask a pretty simple question: Are gas station Ae. albopictus more genetically diverse than neighborhood Ae. albopictus?” Reiskind says. “I would also like to explore whether megatransects of gas stations, say up I-95, might give us important information about the potential for population movement, especially of the Zika, chikungunya, and dengue vector Aedes aegypti.”
Journal of Medical Entomology