UNG biologists trap, dissect mosquitoes to assess heartworm risk

A research project by the University of North Georgia’s biology department on the Gainesville campus could determine whether the mosquitoes in this community carry the infection that can infect dogs with heartworms.

A mosquito trap with explanatory signage. (Photo by Jennifer Harris)

Dr. Evan Lampert and Dr. Davison Sangweme are conducting the experiment with their senior students.

“Student vet interns see quite a bit of infestation of heartworms in dogs. We wanted to see if this area is a hotspot for that and see what precautions would need to be taken,” Sangweme said.

Mosquito traps and lures were placed around campus over the summer.

Two traps were placed on the Gainesville campus by the volleyball pitch and the student center. One trap was placed off-campus in Gainesville. The trap is essentially a cylindrical bag baited with several different chemicals. It is not very big and can only trap a few mosquitos.

The traps used a mixture of chemicals to mimic the human scent. The traps have a little fan that not only sucks in the mosquitoes, but also exhales the scent, referred to as the lure, into the atmosphere. The lure lasts three to four months.

Mosquitoes were also baited with dry ice. They are lured in by the carbon dioxide because that is the gas humans produce when they breathe.

“Our students collect the mosquitos, identify the species and the sex, then they pop their heads off and pull apart the bodies,” Lampert said.

“Mosquitoes in this area have not been characterized in a long time. We’re not really clear about what varieties we have. Our initial aim was to find out if the mosquitoes carry dirofilaria [heartworm]. If mosquitoes carry that infection, when you dissect them you can see the microfilariae or the early stages of that, which transmits to dogs,” Sangweme said.

The collection process ended in mid-October. The researchers are still analyzing the results.

Sangweme said the students will be working with the Centers for Disease Control to determine the infections that the mosquitoes carry. The results will be posted on a sign outside the science building.

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