West Nile virus (family Flaviviridae, genus Flavivirus, WNV) persistently infects many mosquito tissues, and it has been associated with cytopathological changes in midgut muscles and salivary glands. However, the effects of WNV infection on mosquito fitness (survival and reproduction) are not known. We conducted a life table study of individually housed female Culex tarsalis Coquillett. After an initial bloodmeal from a WNV-infected or uninfected chicken, mosquitoes were provided sucrose and offered weekly opportunities to feed on a hanging blood drop. WNV transmission status was determined by testing the remaining blood drop for virus after mosquito feeding. Dead mosquitoes and eggs were collected daily. Mosquito legs and bodies were tested for WNV, and eggs were counted and allowed to hatch. Two replicates of this experiment were performed, with a total of 62 mosquitoes that fed on a WNV-infected chicken (of which 21 became infected) and 43 mosquitoes that fed on an uninfected chicken. Fecundity of WNV-infected mosquitoes was significantly lower than that of uninfected mosquitoes, especially during the first oviposition. WNV infection was associated with smaller egg rafts, whereas increasing wing length and WNV titer in the legs had a positive effect on egg raft size. Additionally, infected mosquitoes had lower egg hatch rates than did uninfected mosquitoes. There were no significant differences in survival between infected and uninfected mosquitoes. Blood feeding rates were higher in infected mosquitoes than in uninfected mosquitoes. A small amount of virus (average, 378; range, 5–5,000 plaque-forming units) was transmitted to the blood drops fed upon by infected mosquitoes. Although WNV infection negatively impacts mosquito reproduction, facets of mosquito biology that are critical to virus transmission success were either not affected (survival) or changed in such a way as to result in enhanced vectorial capacity (blood feeding).
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Vol. 44 • No. 6