The prime significance of species belonging to the genus Culicoides Latreille, 1809 (Diptera: Ceratopogonidae) is their ability to transmit viruses such as bluetongue virus (BTV) to wild and domestic ruminants. Prior to 1998, BTV was considered exotic in Europe, but according to recent history of its outbreaks, it has become endemic in southern and eastern European countries circulating beyond its expected historical limits, into the Balkan region. The wind-borne long-distance dispersal of Culicoides spp. over water bodies and local spreading between farms emphasize the necessity of filling in the information gaps regarding vector species distribution. In most Balkan countries, data on Culicoides fauna and species distribution are lacking, or information is old and scarce.
During this study, 8586 specimens belonging to 41 species were collected. We present the first faunistic data on Culicoides species in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia. For other countries (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria and Croatia), all historical records were compiled for the first time and then expanded with our findings to various extents. In all countries, confirmed or suspected BTV vector species belonging to the subgenera Avaritia and Culicoides were collected. The total number of species sampled during our field collections was 20 in Bosnia and Herzegovina (15 new records), 10 in Bulgaria (2 new records), 10 in Croatia (5 new records), 13 in FYROM, 9 in Kosovo, 15 in Montenegro, and 28 in Serbia. Of these, 14 species were registered for the first time in this part of the Balkans.
This paper provides the first data about Culicoides fauna in FYROM, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia, as well as new records and an update on the checklists for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria and Croatia. These findings provide preliminary insights into the routes of BTV introduction and spreading within the Balkans, and present a valuable contribution to further research related to Culicoides-borne diseases in Europe.