Blood meal identification can provide information about the natural host-feeding patterns or preferences of Culicoides species. Such information could indirectly provide data indicating which reservoirs are significant in associated vector-borne diseases.
We positively identified the host species through DNA sequencing of the cytochrome b gene in 144 of the 170 (84.7%) blood meal specimens tested. In the remaining samples, identification of the blood-meal source was unsuccessful, possibly due to the post-ingestion time prior to sampling or the availability of the species-specific cytochrome b gene sequences in the database. The majority of identified blood meals were derived from mammalian blood (95.8%), and only six contained chicken blood. We identified five species as mammalian hosts for Culicoides spp.: sheep (87.7%), human (6.5%), cattle (3.7%) and Savi's Pine Vole (Micrototus savii) (2.1%). The results suggested that large mammals, specifically ruminants, were most frequently fed upon by biting midges (Culicoides spp.), but evidence of opportunistic feeding behaviour was also found. Host feeding behaviour of Culicoides species may also be influenced by the relative abundance of a particular host species in the area being studied. In this sense, Savi's Pine Vole, a wild species, was found to be a locally relevant host and a putative reservoir for viruses transmitted by species of biting midges belonging to the Culicoides genus.
Finally, feeding on multiple potential host species was observed. One midge acquired blood meals from human and chicken hosts, while four other midges fed on two different sheep.