CAMP ZAMA, Japan –
Whether it’s cicadas, mosquitos or hundreds of fungus gnat larvae slithering across a walkway together, living at Camp Zama can bring up a lot of questions about insects.
Capt. John Eads, chief medical entomologist for Public Health Command – Pacific, wants to answer those questions.
“If there are any worries or issues, we are here to help,” Eads said. “We are here for the community. My main mission is to be here for the Pacific region for questions and consultative services.”
His expertise, however, isn’t limited to insects, which are technically those creatures with a head, thorax and abdomen, six legs and one or two sets of wings. Eads can also answer questions about spiders, snakes and centipedes, for example.
Eads heads a team of three Soldiers and one civilian entomologist in the command’s building on Camp Zama. The command covers the entire Pacific region and has staff at Camp Zama, Joint Base Lewis-McCord in Washington, and in Hawaii. Locally, the office works with the U.S. Army Garrison Japan Directorate of Public Works, U.S. Army Medical Activity – Japan Preventive Medicine and Public Health Activity – Japan.
The entomology team has a laboratory and a room dedicated to educational purposes that houses live smoky brown cockroaches (one named Freddie), a live rhinoceros beetle named Petri, and a live Oriental odd-tooth snake that has no name because it will go back into the wild.
The room also contains a large, empty Japanese paper wasp nest and several specimens of local insects and other creatures. Eads plans to upgrade the room so visitors can see more specimens, view items under microscopes and read information on TV screens.
In the laboratory, staff members test mosquitoes and ticks sent from all over the Pacific region for vector-borne diseases such as Japanese encephalitis, dengue and chikungunya, Eads said.
The command’s goal is to eliminate Department of Defense vector-borne disease transmission in the Pacific area of responsibility through surveillance and education, Eads said.
“In reality we’re never going to eradicate 100% of mosquitoes or 100% of ticks, so it’s up to us educating the community so they take preventive measures to make sure they don’t get sick from these insects,” Eads said.
To that end, before COVID-19 restrictions, Eads visited local schools to educate children about insects and other creatures, and also held tours at the command’s headquarters. This year, Eads is considering holding tours virtually.
Eads said he encourages teachers who would like a talk to contact him, as well as parents who homeschool. He can tailor his talks to information teachers plan to cover in class.
“Last year it was a parasitology class,” Eads said. “The science teacher was getting ready to go into parasitology—the parasite section of their biology program—so I did a whole class on ectoparasites, which are like ticks that feed on your outside, and internal parasites, such as worms that live in your (gastrointestinal) tract.”
In addition, the team publishes informational pamphlets, including one on threatening and nonthreatening creatures at Camp Zama. Among the threatening creatures are mosquitoes, ticks and the Japanese giant hornet, and Eads offered advice on how to deal with them.
Because mosquitoes spread diseases, it is important to avoid bites by covering up and using insect repellent on exposed skin, Eads said.
When choosing a repellent, people should consider the type, such as whether it is natural or containing DEET, the percentage of the active ingredient, and the planned activity, Eads said.
For example, a repellent with a low percentage of DEET might work well for short, nonstrenuous activity, but a higher percentage is usually necessary for longer, more strenuous activities, Eads said.
When using a DEET product, is important to apply it away from mucous membranes such as in the eyes or mouth, Eads said. People should also be aware that although it is safe on skin, it can damage plastic items, such as sunglasses.
There are also natural repellents that feature oil of lemon eucalyptus or its synthesized compound, p-Menthane-3, 8-diol (aka para-menthane-3, 8-diol, PMD, or menthoglycol), Eads said.
“If you want all-natural because you don’t like chemicals, then there are these options out there as well,” Eads said. “Just be cognizant, again, of the percentage; get the highest percentage you can find.”
It is also important to keep in mind that if insects start to swarm again, it’s time to reapply the repellent, Eads said.
Before buying any type of repellent, purchasers should make sure the label says the manufacturer has registered it with the federal Environmental Protection Agency and it is EPA-approved, Eads said.
Also, to decrease the number of mosquitoes in general, people should empty sources of standing water, such as flower pots and pet dishes, so mosquitoes don’t lay eggs in them, Eads said.
When it comes to ticks, Eads said it is important to check for ticks after activities such as hikes.
Eads said he has developed tick collection kits so personnel at the health and veterinary clinics can provide him with samples for disease testing.
People can either bring in ticks to the clinics or, for the squeamish, ask clinic personnel to pull them off, Eads said.
Either way, it is vital for everyone to know that if a tick tests positive for a disease, it doesn’t necessarily mean the person or pet has it, Eads said.
The tests are important, however, because personnel can then test the human or pet for the disease and keep a look out for symptoms, Eads said.
“It’s just another tool in our surveillance program to help get the information and make sure that nobody is getting sick or ill,” Eads said.
In regard to Japanese giant hornets, people should stay away from them and report any suspected nests to DPW at (DSN) 315-263-4613 or (COMM) 046-407-4613, Eads said.
Although the hornets are not typically aggressive, having their nest disturbed can cause them to attack, Eads said.
In terms of snakes, the Mamushi snake, which is brown with white rings, is the primary venomous snake in the area, Eads said.
If a snake bites someone, the best course of action is to take a picture of the snake, from a distance, with a cell phone and seek medical attention for the bite victim, Eads said.
“Don’t try to catch it. We’ve had too many instances of friends who tried to catch the snake so they could show what type it was, and then the friends get bitten as well,” Eads said. “So just snap a picture of it. That will help us ID it for any anti-venom or anything that’s needed.”
Most snakes in the area are nonvenomous, so people should not try to kill them, Eads said.
For example, one of the reasons he is rehabilitating the Oriental odd-tooth snake is because it eats venomous snakes, Eads said. When the snake is ready for release, he will let it go in an unpopulated area so it has a better chance of survival.
“What happens is people, they don’t know, so they get scared and they kill them, and this is actually a very helpful snake,” Eads said.
In terms of nonthreatening creatures, the house centipede is harmless and will eat insects people do not want in their homes, Eads said. In addition, most spiders in the area are innocuous as well, although some might look scary.
Another harmless insect heard from a lot this time of year is the cicada, which has five species locally, Eads said.
They all make different sounds, and some people can tell which part of the summer it is by the sounds of the cicadas, Eads said.
“(Cicadas) have these corrugated tymbal membranes on their sides, and it’s actually the ribs in the membrane that get flexed in, and when they flex in, they make a certain noise,” Eads said. “How often they flex them in and the structure of them changes their sound.”
Eads said the Army only has about 58 entomologists, and he learned about the career field by chance.
He began his military career as a Navy Seabee, but later enlisted in the Army as a medical laboratory technician and earned two bachelor’s degrees—one in medical laboratory science and the other in cytotechnology, which is the study of cells.
After deploying in the place of another Soldier whose wife had a high-risk pregnancy, Eads was working in preventative medicine in Iraq when he met his first Army entomologist.
“I was like, ‘You’re kidding me. The Army has entomologists?’” Eads said.
The entomologist inspired him, so after the deployment, Eads earned his master’s in entomology from the University of Nebraska, received his commission in 2015, and became an Army entomologist himself.
He specializes in ticks, but enjoys the profession as a whole because of the challenge.
“You can ‘never say never’ and ‘never say always’ in entomology, because the insects adapt and change so quickly,” Eads said. “You can think that an insect will never do one thing, but all of a sudden they adapt and they can do it.”
For that reason, it is necessary for entomologists to constantly read up on the newest research, Eads said.
Also, since he always likes to learn about local insects and other creatures, people should feel free to send him photos and questions, Eads said. Contact the entomology office at email@example.com.
“Never hesitate to shoot me a picture,” Eads said. “I get excited.”