Insect of the Month (April): Malaria mosquito, Anopheles gambiae sensu stricto

The year 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe). 

icipe was established in 1970 by the late internationally renowned Kenyan scientist, Prof. Thomas Risley Odhiambo, at a time when the very notion that insect science – or indeed, the then woefully small indigenous scientific communities – could contribute to a prosperous future for Africa must have seemed audacious to say the least.

icipe has progressed and flourished just as envisioned. Today, the Centre stands as a source of pride for Kenya and for Africa, with well-deserved regional and international acclaim as the only institution on the continent working primarily on insects and other arthropods, and a hub of scientific excellence and capacity building. 

This esteem has been achieved through unwavering commitment to the Centre’s original vision of elevating the lives of communities across Africa, by providing solutions that are environmentally safe, pre-empt the use of harmful chemicals, are affordable, accessible and easy-to-use, for the management of pests of crops, and disease transmitting insects. Moreover, our science-led strategies are helping communities, especially those in marginalised areas, to exploit beneficial insects, like bees and silkworms, while protecting the environment. We have also pioneered research in the exciting area of insects as alternative sources of food for people and feed for livestock, and other uses like organic waste conversion. Our holistic approach contributes to improving household and national incomes, employment and nutritional security of many people in Africa, transforming livelihoods in an inclusive manner, especially for women and the youth.  

Our golden jubilee is embodied in the slogan: ‘Insects for Life’ – a dual expression of the interlinkage between icipe 4H research approach that encompasses: Human, Animal, Plant and Environment Health; and the unwavering commitment of the Centre to its vision and mission. In tandem, we are running an Insect of the Month series that provides an illustration of intricate interlinkage between insects and livelihoods, in Africa and beyond.

Malaria mosquito: Anopheles gambiae sensu stricto

The Latin name Anopheles originates from Ancient Greek and means ‘useless’. The genus was first described in 1818 and over 400 species are known to date worldwide of which around 30 are malaria vectors of major importance. Anopheles mosquitoes are among the deadliest animals in the world killing over 430,000 people a year due to their efficiency in transmitting the malaria parasite. Anopheles gambiae is one of the best-known species, because of its predominant role in the transmission of the most dangerous parasite species to humans – Plasmodium falciparumAnopheles gambiae and other major vectors in sub-Saharan Africa are currently controlled through high coverage of long-lasting insecticidal nets and indoor residual insecticide spraying exploiting the vectors’ habit to preferentially bite humans inside their houses at night. However, intense insecticide use indoors has led to spiralling physiological insecticide resistance in the vectors and behavioural adaptations, i.e. increased early and outdoor biting. icipe is spear-heading research into innovative vector control tools that can complement current interventions by studying the behavioural and chemical ecology of malaria vectors for targeting all physiological stages with an emphasis on novel tools for outdoor control.

Tomato leafminer, Tuta absoluta.
Malaria mosquito: Anopheles gambiae sensu stricto