Dr Jess Stokes
Dr Jess Stokes is a post-doc at The Pirbright Institute, studying the overwintering of Culicoides biting midges and their emergence in the spring.
"Culicoides biting midges are a truly fascinating insect vector species to work with. Despite their tiny size (1-3mm) they are incredibly widespread and abundant, particularly on farms. Of the 51 species identified in Britain so far, only 6 species are considered potential vector species, however these species make up the vast majority of the Culicoides on farm. To complicate working with these tiny biting flies even further we struggle to keep these UK vector species alive in the lab for any length of time. This means that we rely more on field data to inform our understanding of these species in the UK.
My current work is attempting to better understand the transmission dynamics of Culicoides-borne viruses. For example we still do not fully understand how viruses, such as bluetongue virus and Schmallenberg virus, manage to overwinter between years. Only adult Culicoides are able to transmit these viruses and are typically absent over the winter. Part of my current work has been trapping for adult Culicoides over the winter months across multiple farms to try to determine adult activity. We have been pairing these collections with emergence traps, which catch any young Culicoides emerging from the breeding habitats they are placed over (typically cow dung). These emergence traps have been running throughout the year allowing us to observe the seasonal pattern of their emergence, which in turn gives us information about the potential number of transmission cycles during outbreak years".