NEW Mosquito Videos!

In February, I had the opportunity to be apart of a few short videos on one of my favorite topics: mosquitoes! While we didn’t record the videos until February, there was a great deal of preparation that went into this. The videos are not very long, but it was essential that we ensured every bit of information presented was factual and vetted by multiple experts in the field.

These videos, which add up to a total of less than 15 minutes, took 5 full days of filming to get done! I was asked to 1) serve as a content expert and help develop the videos and 2) talk about mosquito biology and control on camera. Rob Nelson from Untamed Science was the creative mastermind behind the videos and really created some fun and interesting videos. Jonas Stenstrom was there to help get the footage for the videos. Side note: they make videos about science and consistently produces great videos. Check out more of their other work at the link above!

The filming of these videos was funded by a larger project, Prevent and Protect. As a collaborator on this project, I look forward to sharing more products of the grant with you as we finish them!

Back to the videos… In each one, we aim to answer a question that may be of interest to members of the public. We also wanted these videos to be a resource to anyone looking for a factual and educational piece to share. Because they are short, they are easy to watch and are packed with information.

The first video, below, asks which mosquitoes are BAD mosquitoes. As a mosquito biologist, people ask me this question all the time. What purpose do mosquitoes serve? Why can’t we kill them all? Well, this video answers those questions and talks about basic mosquito biology. It also features the photography of Dr. Lary Reeves (on instagram @biodiversilary) who has a talent for highlighting just how beautiful and some mosquitoes are and their diversity.

Mosquito Biology

In the last several years, much of my research has focused on the study of two species of mosquito. They develop in natural and artificial containers and tend to live around humans. They also can transmit pathogens that cause disease include dengue, chikungunya, and Zika. This next video focuses on what you can do to prevent mosquitoes from developing around your home. Dr. Andrea Lucky and I had some fun with this one and made a competition out of looking for larval mosquito habitat.

Reducing Mosquitoes around your Home

Mosquitoes are annoying and can make it hard to be outside, but they are more than a nuisance. They are a public health concern because they can transmit pathogens that cause disease. In Florida, we deal with transmission of different arboviruses (arthropod-borne virus) including West Nile virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis. In the not so distant past, Florida has also seen transmission of dengue, chikungunya, and Zika. The video below talks about these diseases and how we monitor for arboviruses that can cause disease in Florida.

Mosquito-Borne Illnesses and Arbovirus Surveillance

And finally, my favorite video to film, the Mosquito Control 101 video. Mosquito control is a big reason why we can comfortably live in Florida. Without them, mosquitoes would certainly be more numerous. Additionally, without mosquito control responding to cases of vector-borne disease, they would likely be more prevalent as well. They play a critical role in protecting public health and we wanted to talk about that. Over the course of my PhD, I have had the opportunity to work with many of Florida’s programs and Volusia County Mosquito Control volunteered to represent what mosquito control looks like in the state. I want to extend a huge thank you to Volusia County Mosquito Control for helping us make this video and I hope this gives people a glimpse of what operational mosquito control looks like.

Mosquito Control 101

Aside from our mission to create educational videos, Rob also wanted to have some “fun”. He told me that he just couldn’t leave Florida without letting one of our colony cages of mosquitoes feed on him and Jonas. We don’t usually have people that voluntary want to feed our hungry females, but it sure made for an interesting video! Rob let the mosquitoes feed on his arm and Jonas had them feed on his back. They went live on instagram during this so their followers could ask mosquito related questions. Enjoy!

Being part of these videos was a learning experience for me and it was great to see Rob and Jonas power through the filming process. It was a really fun (and busy) 5 days, but I think everyone is very pleased with how the videos turned out. Also, I got some fun pictures out of it!

Holding the Sentinel Chickens used for Arbovirus Surveillance
I think my ring looks pretty good with a bloodfed Aedes aegypti next to it.

Fall 2018 – Semester in Review

The Fall 2018 semester was (another) busy semester! However, I want to start on a personal note. I’m a dually-enrolled PhD (Entomology) and Master of Public Health student, I feel like I have a never-ending to-do list. There are manuscripts to write, classes to take, presentations to prepare, student emails to respond to, grants to work on, and so much more. It’s easy to get caught up in all that and just work constantly. This semester, I made a conscious effort to not only make progress on my PhD and MPH, but also make some ‘me time’ to spend time with friends and do things that I enjoy.

What’s funny is that my academic pursuits are what led me to many of my closest friends. My friend Erin Powell is currently pursuing her PhD at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. We met while we were completing our MS degrees at the University of Florida. This is the time when I also met Heather Erskine and Brittany Campbell. These are 3 of my greatest friends and I got to see them all during the fall! Erin was visiting for the US for ‘conference season’ and I made a trip to Washington D.C. to visit with Brittany and Heather. This personal time is so important no matter what your career path is and one of my New Year’s resolutions is to continue making that a priority.

So now on to the professional events of the semester! I took a couple of classes this semester for my MPH, but also got to teach a laboratory section of Principles of Entomology. This is an introductory course to entomology. I had almost 30 students, most of which were undergraduate students. Students in this class learn the major insect orders, basic insect morphology and biology, principles of integrated pest management, and more. One of the coolest parts of this class is the students have to collect insects and build a basic insect collection. Throughout the semester, their curation skills dramatically improve and they learn more about the insects and their biology as a result of the hands-on experience of collecting. The students also take a couple field trips. The first was to a boat dock so they could collect aquatic insects. The other was to the newly-finished bee lab at the University of Florida where the students get to learn about bees and bee-keeping. I was lucky to have a class that was eager to learn more about insects and I enjoyed getting to share my enthusiasm for entomology with them (while also improving my teaching skills).

In addition to teaching and taking classes, I attended 3 conferences and spoke in a graduate student symposium hosted by the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory. At this graduate student symposium, I presented a talk titled “Distribution and Insecticide Susceptibility Status of Florida Populations of Aedes aegypti (Linnaeus) and Aedes albopictus (Skuse).” At this symposium, I was among the four students that received an award for their presentation. Bethany McGregor, Kristin Sloyer, and Richard West also gave wonderful presentations and received awards.

I attended the Society for Vector Ecology meeting in Yosemite, CA, the Florida Mosquito Control Association meeting in St. Petersburg, FL, and Entomological Society of America meeting in Vancouver, Canada. At the FMCA meeting, I presented a talk titled “Assessing the Efficacy of Operational Mosquito Control Products through Field Trials.” I was also the recipient of Cyrus Lesser Memorial Scholarship.

At the SOVE annual meeting, I was asked to organize the annual student symposium. Nine students from various universities spoke on their research projects and also received a scholarship to pay for meeting expenses. Additionally, Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory students and postdocs were well represented at this meeting. At this meeting, I presented a talk titled “Fight the Bite: An Elementary Education Campaign to Combat Container Mosquitoes.”

SOVE is a unique society and at every meeting, the organizers reserve one day for a trip in the area. As the meeting was held in Yosemite, CA, we visited Yosemite National Park for the day and had the opportunity to explore.

At the ESA meeting was probably the most hectic for me. For the last year (2017-2018) I have served as the chair for the Student Affairs Committee (SAC) of ESA. This position means that I get to be part of the ESA Planning Committee and plan and organize student events for the meeting. The SAC is responsible for organizing the Student Debates for the meeting, hosting a webinar before the annual meeting, writing blog posts for Entomology Today, helping plan the student reception, and more.

This ESA meeting was also special because it was a joint meeting with the Entomological Society of Canada (ESC) and the Entomological Society of British Columbia (ESBC). Serving on the SAC is rewarding, but because this was a Joint Annual Meeting (JAM), I got to meet and get to know people that I may not have otherwise met. Each society had their own representatives so my student counterparts in ESC and ESBC were Joanna Konopka and Dan Peach (pictured below).

In addition to serving on the SAC, I gave two presentations at this meeting. The first was a 3-minutes student competition talk titled “Fight the Bite: An Elementary Education Campaign to Combat Container Mosquitoes” and the other was an invited talk titled “Collaborating with Vector Control to Improve our Understanding of Insecticide Resistance.” I am happy to report that I received 1st place in my student competition talk!

At the very end of this semester, I got to travel to San Pedro Sula, Honduras to host a mosquito ecology and control workshop with one of my committee members, Dr. Alto. This is something that I worked on preparing for most of the semester and then got to bring to life in December. I am working on a full post to elaborate on that experience, so stay tuned!

On (another) personal note, I will also say that I got engaged at the end of this year (yay!). The last 6 months have probably been some of my busiest, but what a rewarding 6 months it was. 2018 was wonderful and I am looking forward to 2019. Happy New Year!

Searching for Mosquitoes

I am currently in San Pedro Sula, Honduras and the mountains are beautiful! I am here with one of my PhD committee members, Dr. Barry Alto, and we have been here for a couple of weeks co-teaching a workshop on mosquito ecology and control. This workshop is taking place at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Honduras en el Valle de Sula (UNAH-VS). I am excited to write a longer post about this trip (and this past fall semester) once I make it back to the States. In the meantime, please enjoy this video! I went searching for mosquitoes and larval development sites on the UNAH campus and made a short video of the adventure.

Field Trials

The lab has been a very busy place for the last couple of months! Since May, Davi (lab technician), Zach (UF IFAS Intern), and I have been busy preparing for and executing field trials in collaboration with mosquito control programs throughout the state of Florida. In May, we completed 4 field trials in Indian River County and in June were able to complete 5 more in Walton County. Thank you to Indian River Mosquito Control and both North and South Walton Mosquito Control for all of your work in helping us make those trials happen.

My primary focus (at least currently) is on insecticide resistance, particularly in mosquitoes. The bulk of our resistance work has focused on Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, but we have recently been working with other species such as Culex quinquefasciatus and Aedes japonicus. There are multiple methods for evaluating the insecticide susceptibility status of an insect and one of those methods is field trials. For my research, we have been using the CDC bottle bioassay and field trials to assess insecticide susceptibility status.

CDC Bottle Bioassay
CDC Bottle Bioassay

The CDC bottle bioassay is a lab-based assay where we treat a glass bottle with pure active ingredient and evaluate mortality over time. These assays can be great indicators of resistance developing within a population. However, there are a lot of factors that can influence the success of an insecticide in the field (weather conditions, vegetation, chemical product, etc.).

Since the results in the bottle do not necessarily match the mortality you might see in a field application of an insecticide, we do field trials to assess the efficacy of a formulated product. In Florida, public health mosquito control is done by mosquito control programs located throughout the state. When adulticiding, one of two chemical types is used: a pyrethroid or organophosphate. For our field trials, we wanted to assess the efficacy of both of these chemical types.

FieldGraphic

Pictured on the left is a representation of how our field site is set up for trials. Cages are place 100, 200, and 300 ft from the line of spray. Also at each of these locations is a spinner that collects droplets from the spray truck on glass slides. Control cages are placed upwind of the line of spray to ensure that the mortality observed during the trial is due to the insecticide spray and not something pre-existing in the environment.

Prior to the trial, mosquitoes are aspirated into the field cages and those cages are hung on stakes at each of the field locations. The spinners are mounted on top of the stakes and turned on immediately prior to the trial.

 

Once the cages are up and the spinners are on, we wait for the appropriate wind speeds (2-10 mph). It is important to wait until there is sufficient wind so that 1) the insecticide will actually be carried across the field site and 2) we are using the product according to label specifications.

After the cages have been treated, they are transferred to clean holding cages. To do this, we first knock down any surviving mosquitoes with CO2. Once they have been knocked down, the field cage is cut open and mosquitoes are transferred to a clean holding cup for the remainder of the trial. The mosquitoes quickly recover from their CO2 knockdown and mortality readings can be taken for the next 24 hours.

From these trials, we will learn more about the efficacy of each mosquito control program’s product in the field, and how that relates to the results we get in the laboratory.

IMG_0667As a side note (and kind of a funny one), doing field work at night in Florida is really fun. During these trials, we try to avoid using insect repellent so it doesn’t confound our results in some way. As a result, we may become prey to hungry mosquitoes. In Indian River, the Psorophora population was out in force. Take a look at the mosquito control director’s leg covered in mosquitoes!

Next week, we will head out to Pasco County for one more round of field trials before the end of the summer. Thank you to Indian River Mosquito Control, South and North Walton Mosquito Control, Dr. Connelly, Daviela, and Zach for helping make these trials go off so smoothly! It truly was a team effort and I think the trials went as well as they could.

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The team for the Indian River trials

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Dr. Connelly, Daviela, and Casey

Culex Collections

The first few months of 2018 were primarily spent in FMEL’s Biosafety Laboratory. Now, it’s time to shift gears and do some field work! May, June, and July will be spent preparing for and executing field trials to assess the susceptibility status of field populations of Aedes aegypti (yellow fever mosquito), Aedes albopictus (Asian tiger mosquito), and Culex quinquefasciatus (southern house mosquito). These field trials will be conducted in Indian River, Walton, and Pasco County.

Culex quinquefasciatus is a species that I hadn’t worked with very much until the last year. These mosquitoes are vectors of St. Louis encephalitis virus and West Nile virus. In contrast to Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, they lay egg rafts instead of laying their eggs singly. To collect eggs from ‘quinx’, we first created a bucket of ‘stink water’. This bucket of stink water was placed outside our lab in a wooded area and the next day we were able to collect egg rafts off the surface of the water.

In the above picture, Daviela and I are using a paint brush to gently remove the egg rafts from the surface of the water. The rafts are then placed on a piece of moist filter paper so we can take them into the lab. In the lab, we can hatch the egg rafts in a tray of water and rear them for our experiments. In one evening, we were able to collect 10 egg rafts from this stink water.
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The egg rafts may look small, each raft is composed of 100 or more eggs. The picture below shows the egg raft under a microscope and here you can see how many eggs really make up this egg raft!

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Our field trials in Indian River County will take place the week of May 21st, so stay tuned for more updates and pictures of field trials.

Vertical Transmission Update

In the last update, we had fed our mosquitoes their infectious bloodmeal containing Zika virus. After that, everything got a bit crazy so I have provided a short summary here of everything that we have done since that time.

After the infectious bloodfeeding, we allowed our mosquitoes to lay eggs. However, this first batch of eggs is not what we are interested in. We don’t expect to see infection in the progeny in the first batch because it is too soon after infection. So, we had to feed our female mosquitoes again! After this second bloodfeeding (which contained no virus), bloodfed mosquitoes were sorted into individual tubes and provided a wet paper where they could lay their eggs. THESE eggs are the ones we are interested in. If vertical transmission of Zika virus is occurring, these progeny are the ones we would expect to be infected.

Once the mosquitoes had finished laying their eggs, we needed to determine which of those mothers were infected (consuming an infectious bloodmeal doesn’t automatically result in infection). To do this, we tested all of the mosquitoes that laid eggs by doing RNA extractions and PCR.

Now, we know which females were infected with Zika virus which tells us which eggs to hatch. Those eggs were then hatched, provided all the larval diet they could need, and the progeny were allowed to emerge into a covered cup like the one you see below. The blue ball you see on top of the cup is a moist sugar ball which ensures our mosquitoes survive until the next step of the experiment.

IMG_0336Progeny of infected female mosquitoes emerging inside a cup.

We have finally arrived at the final step! The progeny of the infected mothers are now adults and we want to know if these mosquitoes are infected with Zika virus. As a reminder, these progeny have never bloodfed which means that if they are infected, they had to have received the virus transovarially from their mother.

For the progeny, we completed capillary assays. To do this, the adult mosquitoes were knocked down and kept on ice while their legs were removed and their wings were severed. This process does not kill the mosquito but does immobilize them so we are able to collect their saliva. To collect the saliva of these legless mosquitoes, they are secured on a piece of tape with their proboscis (mouthparts) hanging off the edge of the tape. A capillary tube with oil in it is placed on the proboscis of the mosquito and mosquitoes are allowed an hour to salivate into the capillary tube. This allows the mosquitoes saliva to be collected in the immersion oil. The oil that now (hopefully) contains the saliva is ejected into a media tube to await testing. If you are interested in what this looks like in the laboratory, check out the pictures below.

IMG_0346Many mosquitoes with capillary tubes on their proboscis!

img_0365.jpgA close-up shot of the capillary tubes on the mosquito’s proboscis.IMG_0347

At this point, we are no longer dealing with live mosquitoes. Now, we are working on completing the RNA extractions and PCR for all of these progeny. This may take a couple months to complete because of the large sample size we were able to achieve.

As an ending note, I want to emphasize how much work went into the experiment portion of this project. At times, we had 6 or 7 people in the laboratory processing samples, dissecting mosquitoes, putting on capillary tubes, etc. These kinds of projects are extremely intensive and I couldn’t have completed this project without the help of the individuals at FMEL.

Once we are able to complete all the extractions, PCR, and analyses, I will be sure to post an update on what we found.

ESA Southeastern Branch Meeting and a Defense

Things have finally slowed down a bit and I can take the time to share some updates on what has been going on the last month and a half!

In March, I attended the Southeastern Branch meeting of the Entomological Society of America. This is a meeting that I was looking forward to for some time for a couple of reasons. 1) I was going to get to talk about some extension work we have been doing in a community in Vero Beach called Gifford and 2) I was the chair of the student affairs committee and was looking forward to seeing all of our events come together!

Overall, the meeting was excellent. The extension program that we have been working on in Gifford focuses on encouraging members of the community to participate in container-elimination. This community is one that is traditionally underserved (decreased access to information and resources). For our program, we had an established member of the community deliver the educational message and encourage container elimination. The study is ongoing, but our preliminary results tell us that this kind of program can be effective. These results could be important when it comes to times of active disease transmission (like Zika in 2016).

There were many students from the University of Florida in attendance at the meeting and they all did excellent in their respective endeavors.

To name a few accomplishments:

  • Cory Penca, DPM student, placed 2nd in the Extension, Outreach and Teaching student competition
  • Morgan Pinkerton, DPM Student, placed 1st in her student competition
  • Lindsy Iglesias, PhD student who graduates this semester, received the Friends of IPM award
  • Rachel Watson received an award for her undergraduate presentation
  • The UF Linnaean Team won 1st place in the Linnaean Games and will advance on to the national games in Vancouver
  • I was awarded the 1st place prize for my Extension presentation

UF_WinnersUniversity of Florida student award winners at the ESA SEB meeting

CaseyParker&SteveLapointe(SEB2018).jpgAccepting my student competition award from ESA SEB President, Dr. LaPointe

After returning from the SEB meeting in Orlando, a good friend of mine was getting ready to defend her MS thesis work. For the last 2 years, Kristin has worked on a project that revolves around Culicoides, otherwise known as no-see-ums. These insects are not only annoying but are vectors of a variety of diseases that can cause disease in cervids. Kristin evaluated sampling methods and created ecological niche models to predict the distribution of various Culicoides species throughout Florida.

She was successful in defending her thesis and will graduate later this semester. After graduating, Kristin will remain at the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory to complete a PhD as a UF Fellowship student.

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