iNaturalist Mosquitoes in Hawaii project
Imagine an island paradise, free of mosquitoes. That was Hawaii before 'makika' were first introduced by tall ships filling their water barrels around 1826. Hawaii is now home to six invasive species of mosquitoes. These species can transmit harmful diseases: from Dengue virus that recently affected over 260 Hawaiians and visitors alike to avian malaria that continues to devastate endangered endemic Hawaiian birds! Mosquitoes are widespread and tiny and it takes a concerted effort just to find out where each species hangs out. Once located, suppressing populations requires cleaning up breeding sites and more.
What can we do about it? The Mosquitos in Hawaii project was formed to extend previous work my student Jon Winchester and I conducted to help identify where each mosquito species resides. This citizen science project, established in May 2015, is powered by the primary social network for natural history: iNaturalist. The iNaturalist app allows individuals to take a photo of any living thing and upload it to the cloud to be identified by thousands of volunteers worldwide. By joining the mosquito project people can share their observations and by using a state-of-the-art web portal (iNaturalist) help identify mosquitoes in the communities.
The benefits of this activity are severalfold: by identifying the species in your area you can learn how to better protect yourself and focus on eliminating their breeding sites. Not only can you and your neighbors build awareness and respond to your immediate need, but your observations contribute to a database that all can share to help focus efforts for mosquito control and elimination. Scientists can use this data to create fine scale distribution maps of mosquito ranges which will also help public health and vector control efforts. And it is fun to get a good photograph and learn a bit about insects!
So what, why care, Dengue is over no? Over 100 million people are infected with Dengue virus in the tropics and subtropics every year. Recently Chikungunya virus, with arguably worse symptoms than Dengue spread globally and now Zika virus threatens Hawaii shores. Don't panic, it takes an infected person to move one of these viruses to Hawaii, but once here it is critical that mosquitoes don't bite the traveler and spark another epidemic. The best way to prevent this is to make mosquito clean up and awareness a regular part of life in Hawaii. The mosquitoes in Hawaii project's benefit is that it is another way to keep the problem top of mind and keep Hawaiians and visitors safe.
What we are looking for: We want data on any mosquito you encounter but most importantly the main species the transmit harmful viruses is the container breeding species that loves humans the Yellow fever Mosquito (Aedes aegypti), and it's cousin the Asian Tiger Mosquito (Aedes albopictus). In addition, the Southern House Mosquito (Culex quinquefasciatus) causes avian malaria that is decimating Hawai'is endangered forest birds. Other mosquito species that can transmit pet and wildlife pathogens include the Inland Floodwater Mosquito (Aedes vexans), the Rock Pool Mosquito (Aedes japonicus), and finally the Bromeliad Mosquito (Wyeomyia mitchellii) which is not generally a significant vector but can be really annoying! For more information see this guide.