Mastronikolos GD, Kapranas A, Balatsos GK, Ioannou C, Papachristos DP, Milonas PG, Puggioli A, Pajović I, Petrić D, Bellini R, Michaelakis A, Papadopoulos NT
Genetic based mosquito control methods have been gaining ground in recent years for their potential to achieve effective suppression or replacement of vector populations without hampering environments or causing any public health risk. These methods require the mass rearing of the target species in large facilities sized to produce millions of sterile males, as already well established for a number of insects of agricultural importance. Assessing the performance of released males in Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) control programs is of the utmost importance for the success of the operation. Besides the negative effects of mass rearing and sterilization, the handling of sterilized insects and shipment to distant areas may also negatively impact the quality of sterilized males. The aim of the current study was to design and executive quality control (QC) tests for sterilized Aedes albopictus (Asian tiger mosquito) males delivered by air shipment from the mass production facility located in Italy to Greece and Montenegro field release sites. Mass reared mosquito strains were based on biological materials received from Italy, Greece and Montenegro. Tests conducted at the mass rearing facility before transportation revealed a rather high residual female contamination following mechanical sex separation (approximately 1.5% females, regardless of the mosquito strain). Irradiated males of all three mosquito strains induced high levels of sterility to females. Shipment lasting approximately 24 h resulted in approximately 15% mortality, while when shipment lasted nearly two days this increased to almost 40%. The flight ability of sterilized males following one day transportation time was satisfactory (over 60%). The response of sterile males to food and water starvation was comparable and slightly lower than that of wild non-transported males. Longevity of sterile males was shorter than that of wild counterparts and it seems it was not affected by mating to wild females. Both mating propensity and mating competitiveness for wild virgin females was higher for the wild, control males compared to the sterile, transported ones. Overall, the performance of sterile male Ae. albopictus delivered from the mass rearing facility of Italy to Greece in approximately 24 h was satisfactory. Transportation lasting two days or longer incurred detrimental effects on males, which called into question the outcome of the SIT release programs. In conclusion, our results demonstrate the need of quality control procedures, especially when sterile male production facilities are not near to the releasing point. Transportation could be a serious drawback for the implementation of Sterile Insect Releases and, consequently, it is important to establish an efficient and fast transportation of sterilized males in advance.