State pursues mosquito 'birth control' to save native birds - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

State pursues mosquito 'birth control' to save native birds

(Image: State Department of Land and Natural Resources) (Image: State Department of Land and Natural Resources)
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

The state is launching an ambitious plan to protect endangered Hawaii birds from disease-carrying mosquitoes.

And "mosquito birth control" is at the center of the plan.

State officials said Wednesday that Hawaii scientists are testing a mosquito control method known as "incompatible insect technique." Here's how it works: an antibiotic is used to wipe male mosquitoes clean, then they are then injected with a strain of bacteria found in fruit flies. 

"If everything works correctly, then that makes them incompatible and they can't have offspring that survive," said Dr. Floyd Reed, researcher at UH Manoa. 

Male mosquitoes are used because unlike females --  they don't bite -- making them safer to release. Scientists are only working with specimens already found in Hawaii. 

"We don't want to bring in mosquitoes from outside Hawaii. We don't want to introduce new variations. The bacteria we're injecting is already in Hawaii so we're not bringing in anything new there as well," said Reed. 

Researchers hope to have their first results within a couple of months. If successful, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources says the team will evaluate with partner agencies -- as well as the public -- on how to safely apply this method to Hawaii's forests. 

There are six types of mosquitoes found in Hawaii, but the research only applies to the one species that harm birds. If all goes well, scientists hope to learn more about how this method could be applied to mosquitoes that affect human health. 

Other states have already kicked off similar projects to reduce mosquito populations. And, officials note, a similar method has been used in Hawaii for decades to control fruit flies.

The DLNR said mosquitoes are a growing problem for Hawaii's native birds giving global warming, which has driven mosquitoes into higher altitudes.
“We are already seeing the loss on Kauai of the safe havens of higher elevation forests for our native birds," said state entomologist Cynthia King. "Mosquito-spread diseases are decimating bird populations and if we do nothing we could lose several more species in the next 10 years."

“Controlling mosquito populations will greatly benefit our endangered native birds," said DLNR Chairwoman Suzanne Case. 

"Mosquitoes have only been here for about 200 years, and our native wildlife has evolved without them over millions of years. While some native species may eat small amounts of mosquitoes, there are no species that depend on them, as even bats are documented to prefer larger prey. Reducing mosquitoes is good for nature and people in Hawaii.”

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