Mosquitoes in the mail: our citizen scientists are hungry for the count

Mosquitoes in the mail: our citizen scientists are hungry for the count

This past summer we engaged the services of citizen scientists nationwide to deliver samples of mosquitoes | waeroa, in our first nationwide mosquito census.

Perhaps better known for their annoying bite, it’s interesting to note that our native mosquitoes are much more inclined to bite birds than people. They have adapted to very particular habitats so there is increasing concern that a loss of them could mean a disturbance of the ecosystem.

With 13 known species of native mosquito and three introduced, the census is important to conclude whether our native species are in decline, show how widely spread the three introduced species have become, and help us form a clearer picture of the impact of factors such as changes in land use and climate change.

Julia sits at her desk holding up a small container that contains a mosquito specimen
Julia with a submitted mosquito sample, 2020. Photo courtesy of Julia Kaspar

The limited data we have comes from our international air and seaports. Mosquitoes are closely monitored at these ports by the Ministry of Health so exotic mosquitoes which could spread disease can be detected quickly and eradicated before they establish themselves.

The mosquito survey has captured the imagination of the public with submissions from as far afield as Lake Manapouri and Open Bay Islands, a rare species from Ngunguru, and a huge parcel with multiple samples and a plethora of species from a farm near Herekino Forest.

Our citizen scientists are not only science nerds but include interested farmers, parents with their children, people concerned about their health, or those that are simply annoyed by the bloodsuckers.

“Of all the samples received to date, we were impressed that only 20 weren’t actually mosquitoes,” says Julia Kaspar, Lead Curator Invertebrates.

An array of parcels on a table
Exciting mail! Photo by Julia Kaspar

In the lab, Julia identifies and photographs each mosquito under a microscope before adding the sample into our collection and logging samples on iNaturalist. We also get back to citizen scientists to report the results and answer any questions they may have.

“As expected we have received a majority of the introduced species,” says Julia. “Since many samples have come from main centres such as Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch this is not surprising because the introduced species are typically found in urban places.

“However, from several rural localities, we are receiving worryingly small numbers of our special New Zealand mozzies.”

Preliminary research will be published in the next three months. Meanwhile, we are still accepting samples.

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