Our region is being targeted by several kinds of migrants we don’t want. The only solution is to eliminate them. Cressida van Zyl-Pithey reports.I grew up in South Africa and there you get used to insects. Certainly I never liked them. I challenge anyone to show me a creature more repulsive than Johannesburg’s Parktown prawn (the prawn-like appearance of the extra-terrestrials in District Nine was surely an acknowledgement of these monstrous denizens of the Gardens of Gauteng). One of the attractions of living in Europe is the absence of really nasty flying bugs and creepy-crawlies. At least I used to think so, but that’s changing.
Dr Pascal Delaunay, a medical entomologist based at l’Archet Hospital in Nice, is an expert on the relation between insects and human health. We last talked to him when we reported not long ago on the return of the bed bug (which, by the way, does not carry disease even if its bites can create discomfort). According to Dr Delaunay there are two inter-related causes of the change in this region’s insect population: “One is the ease of long distance travel – an anopheles mosquito, for example, can board an aircraft on the other side of the world and disembark a few hours later in Paris or London. Insects are often carried in baggage and can survive much more easily these days than in the past when aircraft holds were neither climatised nor pressurised. Global warming also pays its part: an arriving insect is much more likely to adapt to a warmer environment and so go native.”
So which newcomers are we concerned with? There’s quite a bit of choice: four-fifths of all living species are insects and their number is increasing. The current species census in Parc Mercantour has already reported the discovery of several new varieties, all of them – happily – inoffensive. Unfortunately, that is not the case with the invaders. Take first the Asian Hornet, first recorded in southern France in 2004 and believed to have arrived in a cargo of Chinese pottery. It’s now well established with recent sightings in Vence, La Gaude, St Jeannet and elsewhere. This nasty little beast offers a double threat: it could well mean that one day there’ll no longer be honey still for tea. It targets bees, ambushing them as they leave the hive, tearing off their heads and gorging on their innards. They then go in and finish off any survivors. But worse: the Asian Hornet can kill humans. Last year there were three deaths, two around Bordeaux, one near Toulouse. Victims can fall into a coma and quickly die. The insects usually have their nests high up in trees – they can hold up to 2000 adults – although they’ve also been found in hedges and under eaves. Dealing with them is no job for amateurs. Up to 30mm in length, they have a long sting with a powerful thrust that can penetrate a beekeeper’s protective clothing and facemask. If you spot a nest leave (no excuse necessary) and report your finding to the gendarmerie.
A more familiar incomer by now is the tiger mosquito or aedes albopictus which has been present in this region for some years. Unlike the ten or so indigenous French mosquitoes which attack humans, the tiger doesn’t just work an evening shift but is ready to bite at any time of day or night. The real danger, though, lies in its ability to infect its victims with chikungunya, a disagreeable exotic disease. Until recently cases recorded in France were among travellers returning from tropical areas. Now the disease can sometimes be labelled “made in France”. Explains Dr Delaunay: “Someone returns to France with an infection in his blood, he gets bitten by a tiger mosquito who then becomes a vector of the disease and could infect a subject who’s never been out of Villeneuve-Loubet. That’s why eliminating the species is so important.” As we’ve insisted on more than one occasion in these pages, the basic way to keep down the number of mosquitoes is to make sure there’s no stagnant water left around where they can deposit their eggs. It has to be a pitiless exercise in species cleansing, preferably carried out by professionals (see SOSMoustik.com).
In the Alpes-Maritimes the Conseil général offers a free “demozzification” service. If you suspect the tiger mosquito is on your property call 0800 740 606.
Finally, as an arachnophobe I bring this up to reassure myself. Of the 1500 species of spiders to be found in France – worldwide there are 42,000 of these 8-legged and 8-eyed non-insects – only one (a cousin of the black widow) can do any damage to a human and that’s usually very mild. They all have fangs but in most cases their bite is like a pinprick. Even so, the little guys give me the creeps. A while back we printed some advice from the excellent AAGP newsletter that hanging up conkers around doors and windows was an effective repellent. Now I’ve come across the opinion of Stuart Hine, an expert at London’s Natural History Museum: “Conkers does rhyme with bonkers and I know of no science behind this idea!” A friend tells me that fresh romaine leaves can do the trick. Can anyone confirm this?
Information on tiger mosquito (in French) at 0800 740 606. Information on red snout palm beetle (in French at 04 94 35 22 84 - fredonpaca.fr).