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Mosquito's in the UK

Should warning bells be ringing now ?

You may think that you have to go on a foreign holiday or visit a foreign country to experience the joys of mosquitoes, but you don't they are being found in increasing numbers in the UK, although so far few are harmful to you health, but that may be about to change.

Currently 30 plus varieties of mosquitoes are found in the UK, 5 of which are not native.

Malaria carrying mosquitoes used to be found in parts of the UK, but these died out by the 1950's, mostly due to increased drainage, and marshland being made into farmland. Prior to this teams of people were used to eliminate the larvae from stagnant pools and marshes. The last major outbreak in the UK was after the first world war.

Due to the growth of global travel, the number of imported cases of the malaria disease in the UK has risen, with nearly 2,000 a year today. In many cases, live mosquitoes have been found on aircraft, or travelling in luggage, having been transported from countries with malaria. On rare occasions, people may even have contracted malaria in Europe and North America, dubbed "airport malaria".

Officially the rise of the mosquito will be a nuisance in the UK rather than a serious threat, the health infrastructure and access to drugs in the UK means malaria is unlikely to take hold and cause major problems.

Mosquito Facts

  • Culex pipiens is the most common mosquito in Britain.

  • Anopheles mosquitoes, the only known carriers of malaria, are not currently found in the UK.

  • Aedes albopictus found recently in Belgium transmit West Nile virus, Yellow fever and Dengue.

  • Only females bite humans, males feed off nectar.

  • Bites often occur at dawn and dusk, when the mosquitoes' internal clocks tell them it's feeding time.

  • 30 plus varieties of mosquitoes are found in the UK, 5 of which are not native.

  • A quarter of British species do not bite humans but feed on animals and birds.

  • Red bumps and itching caused by bites is an allergic reaction to the mosquito's saliva.

Initially the major risk is not the malaria carrying variety, Anopheles mosquitoes are the only known carriers of malaria, but from another type known as the Asian Tiger mosquito or it's scientific name 'Aedes albopictus' spotted by its white and black striped pattern which has been found recently in Belgium. While the species does not carry malaria, it does transmit West Nile virus, Yellow fever and Dengue. They lay their drought resistant eggs in transportable materials, like used tyres, so there is a possibility that they can be transported to a country where they are not normally found. Some studies suggest that they could survive the UK winter, however, so far this species has not been found in the UK.

Mosquitoes in many parts of the world are becoming immune to insecticides to control them and a recent study in Senegal, between 2007 and 2010, showed that within this short time, resistance to popular types of pesticides used on bed nets, rose from 8% to 48%.

With the practice of re-flooding wetlands and increasing habitat that is ideal for water birds, but also for mosquitoes, added to the reduced ability to control them, we have the situation developing that presents a major risk.

Based on a survey of UK local authorities, reports of mosquito bites over the last 10 years are 2.5 times greater than in the 10 years up to 1996, and this year NHS Direct statistics show 9,061 calls in England complaining of bites and stings between May and mid August 2011, which is up nearly 15% from last summer. However not all bite complaints are due to mosquitoes some can be caused by bed bugs, Scottish midges and fleas.

While it's very difficult to track mosquito numbers and seasonal variations on weather may result in sudden increases or decreases, perhaps with other factors, like increasing habitat for them and decreasing resistance to insecticides, this is something that with hindsight should have rang warning bells.

Female Mosquito Joaquim Alves Gaspar

Other sources:

BBC article on Mosquitoes in the UK

BBC report on Mosquitoes gaining resistance to insecticides used on bed nets 


By: Keith Park Section: Wildlife Section Key:
Page Ref: mosquito Topic: Wildlife & Animals  Last Updated: 03/2012

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