At temperate latitudes, vectors and pathogens must possess biological mechanisms for coping with cold temperatures and surviving from one transmission season to the next. Mosquitoes that overwinter in the adult stage have been proposed as winter maintenance hosts for certain arboviruses. In the cases of West Nile virus (family Flaviviridae, genus Flavivirus) and St. Louis encephalitis virus (family Flaviviridae, genus Flavivirus), discovery of infected overwintering females lends support to this hypothesis, but for other arboviruses, in particular Eastern equine encephalomyelitis virus (family Togaviridae, genus Alphavirus, EEEV), overwintering of the virus in mosquito hosts as not been demonstrated. In the current study, we collected overwintering mosquitoes from a focus of EEEV transmission in the southeastern United States to determine whether mosquitoes serve as winter maintenance hosts for EEEV and to document overwintering biologies of suspected vectors. No virus was detected via reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction of >500 female mosquitoes collected during three winters. Investigation into the winter biologies indicated that Anopheles punctipennis (Say), Culex erraticus (Dyar & Knab), Culex peccator Dyar & Knab, and Uranotaenia sapphirina (Osten Sacken) overwinter as females. Females of these species were collected from hollow trees and emergence traps placed over ground holes. Southern magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora L., trees were preferred overwintering sites of culicine mosquitoes. Emergence from underground overwintering sites peaked in mid-March, when air temperatures reached 18–22°C, and the first bloodengorged females of Cx. erraticus and Cx. peccator were collected during this same period. Blood-fed Culex territans Walker females were collected as early as mid-February. This work provides insight into the overwintering biologies of suspected virus vectors at a site of active EEEV transmission and provides limited evidence against the hypothesis that EEEV persists through intertransmission periods in overwintering mosquitoes.
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Vol. 48 • No. 5