Interactions between the imperiled West Indian manatee, Trichechus manatus, and mosquitoes (Diptera: Culicidae) in Everglades National Park, Florida, USA.
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Arthropod-borne viruses (arboviruses), including those vectored by mosquitoes, have recently been cited as potential emerging health threats to marine mammals. Despite the fully aquatic habits of cetaceans, immunologic exposure to arboviruses including West Nile virus and Eastern equine encephalitis virus has been detected in wild Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, and captive orcas have been killed by West Nile virus and St. Louis encephalitis virus. Currently, there is no evidence of direct interactions between mosquitoes and marine mammals in nature, and it remains unknown how wild cetaceans are exposed to mosquito-vectored pathogens. Here, we report the first evidence of direct interactions between an aquatic mammal, the West Indian manatee, a federally threatened species, and mosquitoes in nature. Observations of manatees in Everglades National Park, Florida, USA, indicate that mosquitoes of three genera, Aedes, Anopheles, and Culex are able to locate and land on surface-active manatees, and at minimum, penetrate and probe manatee epidermis with their mouthparts. Whether mosquitoes can successfully take a blood meal is not known; however, an arbovirus-infected mosquito can inoculate extravascular host tissues with virus-infected saliva during probing. These observations suggest that it is possible for marine mammals to be exposed to mosquito-vectored pathogens through direct interactions with mosquitoes.