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Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory

Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory

What's in a Name? Aedes to Ochlerotatus

To paraphrase an Irving Berlin song - &you say Ah-eedes and I say Aid-ease, lets call the whole thing off.& Now with the article by John Reinert (Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association 16:175-188, 2000) we will use the name Aedes less frequently since many of our most familiar species are now members of the genus Ochlerotatus. So, get used to Ochlerotatus taeniorhynchus, Oc. sollicitans, Oc. tormentor, Oc. triseriatus and many more. Indeed in Florida, only Ae. aegypti, Ae. albopictus, Ae. vexans and Ae. cinereus, will remain as Aedes. All the other Florida Aedes species are now in the genus Ochlerotatus.

Many will ask, what's the fuss all about? Why do we need new names for well-recognized species, and requiring all of us &experts& to learn new nomenclature?

Names and classification are tools for retrieving information, and the names of species are structured to show their true relationships to one another. As a result, once characteristics are found that provide information on common relationships, then there is no choice, those related organisms have to be grouped together. John Reinert points out that the genus Aedes has always been a problem since its subgenera were a very heterogeneous mix and some subgenera were more easily characterized than the genus itself. Dr. Reinert has gone a long way to improve on the situation. His efforts show that the species in Ochlerotatus are different from the species in the genus Aedes. This demands that Ochlerotatus be elevated to generic rank to signify and clarify that reality. This distinction is based on morphologic differences in the female and male genitalia, which have been extremely valuable in defining Aedini taxa. The new names signify that the ancestor of the genus Ochlerotatus arose by diverging from the rest of the Aedes line. Only by elevating Ochlerotatus to genus level do we solve the relationship puzzle and get a true picture of the hierarchical relationships of these mosquito species.

So what does all of this mean to those with interests in mosquito control? Efficient, effective and proper mosquito control must be based on what we know about mosquito habits, behavior, ecology and general biology. The scientific names of mosquitoes convey what we know. Certainly knowing relationships between species is important. The more closely the species are related the more likely it is that their behavior, ecology and biology are related. Time will tell, but I predict that this new information on relatedness will be useful in providing more efficient, effective and proper mosquito control.

Those who dislike change will not be pleased. How many recall Culex fasciatus? The new names must stand up to the scrutiny of other systematists, the general discipline, and the International Committee on Nomenclature. However, this may change again, as new knowledge provides even further refinement and other names to convey the new information. As for pronunciation, I am listening to Dick Darsie on this one. Is it O-clair-ro-tay-tus or O-clair-ro-tah-tus?

Walter J. Tabachnick - Retired
Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory