Meet Corrado Cara, a vector biologist with the Illinois Natural History Survey's (INHS) Medical Entomology Program focusing mainly on the surveillance of vectors and vector-borne diseases and related research projects. Corrado has been interested in learning everything about insects since he was about 10 years old. This lifelong curiosity led to his master’s degree in entomology from the University of Sassari in Italy. Corrado then worked for 11 years in Switzerland for federal and local research institutes (e.g. Agroscope, Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape WSL, and Natural History Museum in Lugano). He recently answered some questions about his work.
What is your background before coming to work at the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS)?
I worked with surveillance programs of insect vectors of plant diseases, and I studies biological interactions between insect vector-plant-parasite and host-parasitoid associations, I am specialized in the taxonomic identification of several groups of insects in Diptera and Hymenoptera orders.
What drew you to your particular area of study?
Since I was a child, I was interested in learning everything about insects, I was curious to observe them more closely and discover their behavior and life. I satisfied my curiosity years later by studying entomology at the University of Sassari, in Italy. After graduation, I moved to Switzerland to work for federal surveillance programs of insect vectors of plant diseases. My continuative collaboration with the Natural History Museum in Lugano allows me to study biological interactions between parasitoids and their hosts. I also further expanded my taxonomic knowledge on several groups of Diptera and Hymenoptera.
What tools are indispensable to your fieldwork?
We use different kinds of traps to collect mosquitoes in the field, such as CDC light traps, BG sentinel traps, resting shelter traps, and gravid traps and pans activated with grass infusion, to collect mosquito eggs. All of these tools are based on specific characteristics of the mosquito life cycle and are designed to collect specimens in different physiological conditions (e.g., gravid, blood-engorged). These methods are indispensable to collect a broad range of species, which also include vectors of parasites associated with human diseases.
What question do you get asked most frequently about your career?
Why are you interested in studying insects? I like to discover how many different species there are in a specific area and how they interact with human beings, and how they affect our lives in different ways.
What do you wish more people understood about medical entomology?
I would like people to understand that people working in the medical entomology field are essential for the surveillance of mosquitoes and ticks of human concerns. These organisms may transmit microorganisms, such as viruses and bacteria, to humans and wildlife, and may cause severe diseases. By monitoring these insect vectors, we define their preferred hosts in the wild. We measure the presence and prevalence of pathogens in nature, which is essential to inform proactive response to cope with zoonotic diseases.
What advice would you give to those just starting out in your field?
The medical entomology field includes several sub-disciplines related to environmental and human health. The best advice that I can think of is to focus on this motivation to improve the quality of life of all living organisms.