Culicoides species composition and molecular identification of host blood meals at two zoos in the UK.Parasit Vectors. 2020 Mar 16; 13(1):139.PV
Culicoides biting midges are biological vectors of arboviruses including bluetongue virus (BTV), Schmallenberg virus (SBV) and African horse sickness virus (AHSV). Zoos are home to a wide range of 'at risk' exotic and native species of animals. These animals have a high value both in monetary terms, conservation significance and breeding potential. To understand the risk these viruses pose to zoo animals, it is necessary to characterise the Culicoides fauna at zoos and determine which potential vector species are feeding on which hosts.
Light-suction traps were used at two UK zoos: the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) London Zoo (LZ) and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo (WZ). Traps were run one night each week from June 2014 to June 2015. Culicoides were morphologically identified to the species level and any blood-fed Culicoides were processed for blood-meal analysis. DNA from blood meals was extracted and amplified using previously published primers. Sequencing was then carried out to determine the host species.
A total of 11,648 Culicoides were trapped and identified (n = 5880 from ZSL WZ; n = 5768 from ZSL LZ), constituting 25 different species. The six putative vectors of BTV, SBV and AHSV in northern Europe were found at both zoos and made up the majority of the total catch (n = 10,701). A total of 31 host sequences were obtained from blood-fed Culicoides. Culicoides obsoletus/C. scoticus, Culicoides dewulfi, Culicoides parroti and Culicoides punctatus were found to be biting a wide range of mammals including Bactrian camels, Indian rhinoceros, Asian elephants and humans, with Culicoides obsoletus/C. scoticus also biting Darwin's rhea. The bird-biting species, Culicoides achrayi, was found to be feeding on blackbirds, blue tits, magpies and carrion crows.
To our knowledge, this is the first study to directly confirm blood-feeding of Culicoides on exotic zoo animals in the UK and shows that they are able to utilise a wide range of exotic as well as native host species. Due to the susceptibility of some zoo animals to Culicoides-borne arboviruses, this study demonstrates that in the event of an outbreak of one of these viruses in the UK, preventative and mitigating measures would need to be taken.