Monday, July 15, 2024

Hawaii: Helicopters dropped millions of mosquitoes to save birds

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Maria Gill
Maria Gill
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Despite their small size, mosquitoes are the most dangerous animal in the world. It carries many diseases that can be transmitted to humans. There are viral diseases such as dengue, chikungunya, Japanese encephalitis, and West Nile fever.

These insects, which have invaded the entire planet, also transmit parasitic diseases such as malaria and lymphatic filariasis. The parasites are transmitted directly to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito.

The Hawaiian red iwi has a 90% chance of dying if bitten by an infected mosquito

However, humans are not the only ones who suffer from mosquito bites. These insects are also a pest to many animal species. In Hawaii, for example, rare and endemic birds of the archipelago face extinction due to mosquitoes.

In total, 33 passerine species are already extinct in Hawaii. Most of the remaining 17 species are now critically endangered. Experts estimate that some may disappear within a year if no action is taken.

Birds in Hawaii are being decimated by avian malaria, which is transmitted by mosquitoes. For example, a red iwi has a 90% chance of dying when bitten by an infected mosquito.

250,000 mosquitoes are released every week by helicopter

So the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources found an unconventional solution to try to save the archipelago’s birds. This includes releasing millions of mosquitoes into the wild to protect birds from infected mosquitoes.

Clearly, these aren’t just any mosquitoes. These are insects. Every week, a helicopter releases 250,000 male mosquitoes. Already, 10 million have been released since the operation began.

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These mosquitoes carry a natural strain of bacteria. This prevents the hatching of eggs from wild females with which males mate.

Do mosquitoes replace insecticides?

This is the Incompatible Insect Technique (ITT) more precisely. A female mosquito mates only once in her life. If they only lay eggs that cannot hatch, the overall population is bound to decline over time.

This is not the first time that ITT technology has been used successfully around the world. Mosquito numbers in China and Mexico have already been reduced in this way. Similar programs have also been launched in California and Florida.

As Dr Nigel Beebe from the University of Queensland explains, “This is much better than using pesticides that have significant off-target effects. Especially when it comes to conserving endangered species.”

However, ITT does not always guarantee long-term mosquito elimination. This solution is more effective in archipelagos than in continental countries where mosquitoes migrate more easily from one country to another.

Avian malaria arrived in Hawaii in the 19th century on American and European ships

Endemic birds in Hawaii are more susceptible to avian malaria because they were not exposed to it during their evolution. The disease was actually transmitted by mosquitoes first brought by European and American ships in the 19th century.

Thus, the birds of the archipelago have no natural immunity to avian malaria. The remaining population has somewhat temporary protection because they live at high altitudes of more than 1,200 or 1,500 meters above sea level.

It is too cold for infected mosquitoes. However, it is only a matter of time before they reach these heights due to global warming.

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source : Watchman

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