Mosquitoes capable of carrying deadly diseases could return to Britain this summer, experts have warned.
Eggs of the aggressive Asian Tiger, which can transmit a host of infections including the feared Chikungunya virus, were found for the first time in the UK last year.
And a leading entomologist believes the species could re-emerge in this country in the next few months.
Clive Boase, a consultant for the British Pest Control Association, said: “The discovery of the mosquito in Britain last year is extremely unlikely to have been a one-off event.
“It has already spread across mainland Europe, so it’s probably only a matter of time before it establishes a colony over here.
“It could happen this summer or next summer, but it’s a case of when, rather than if.
“And it’s a problem waiting to happen because a major infestation in an urban area would be very difficult to eliminate.”
The Tiger, which has black and white stripes on its abdomen and legs, has earned a fearsome reputation as it bites throughout the day, rather than just in the evening as with other species.
It can carry a number of human diseases, including Dengue Fever, and has already been responsible for outbreaks of Chikungunya in France and Italy.
Native to South East Asia, the insect has spread through the transport of goods and evidence of its arrival in the UK was discovered at a service station in Kent in September.
Pest controllers were called in and there was later found to be ‘no risk’ to public health.
But Mr Boase has warned the eradication programme might not have been entirely successful and suggests the mosquito could be re-introduced before long anyway.
He added: “The breeding sites were treated thoroughly, but because the process took place at the end of the summer, no one will know if the work was completely effective until this season.
“If some of the mosquitoes escaped treatment, survived and dispersed - and I’d say there’s a 50-50 chance – they could breed before they’re spotted and we could then have a bigger problem on our hands.
“But even if that issue has been resolved, there are bound to be other introductions sooner or later.”
Public Health England has set up special mosquito traps near ferry ports and the Eurotunnel, but it’s feared the insect will soon find a way into the country – if it hasn’t already.
Dee Ward-Thompson, BPCA technical manager, said: “The Asian Tiger is believed to have first arrived in southern Europe in shipments of used tyres.
“Now it has established strong colonies in Italy, parts of France and Holland and seems to be spreading all the time.
“It can easily survive short journeys in freight lorries, caravans, camping trailers and motorhomes, so I don’t think it will be long before we see them back here.”
Homeowners are urged to empty buckets and paddling pools, cover water butts and turn plant pots and other containers upside down to prevent water from collecting.
Small ponds should be emptied regularly or can be covered with a mosquito net fabric and any other holes in the ground, for example by tree trunks, should be filled in if possible.
Anyone who thinks they’ve spotted a Tiger mosquito is advised to call in the experts.
Ms Ward-Thompson added: “Identifying a Tiger is tricky unless you know what you’re doing, particularly as there are a number of similar-looking but naturally occurring species.
“Most years there are false alarms from people who wrongly claim to have found them.
“The best bet is to contact the BPCA, who’ll arrange positive identification by professionals and will report the matter to the authorities.”
Call the BPCA on (01332) 294288, email firstname.lastname@example.org