Hawaii lawmakers want to fight mosquitoes ... with more mosquitoes

But introducing new insects could have adverse affects.
Updated: Feb. 7, 2019 at 10:10 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - State lawmakers are exploring a new possibility to combating mosquitoes in Hawaii.

But not everyone’s a fan.

The proposal: They want to get rid of mosquitoes that can spread diseases such as dengue fever and Zika — by using other mosquitoes.

Various techniques using millions of modified mosquitoes have been tested all over the world, and sometimes it has worked.

State Rep. David Tarnas wants to look at importing mosquitoes with a natural bacteria called wolbachia.

Research has shown the bacteria helps reduce the transmission of diseases to people.

"This is a mosquito is infected with a bacteria, so it can be released into the wild and slowly but surely reduce the population," said Tarnas, (D) North Kona, North Kohala, South Kohala.

But agriculture officials say whenever you introduce something new to the environment, there is always a possibility that a new subspecies could spread.

"When you're importing something, you can bring in new material that could be potentially more invasive than what's already existing in the state," said Jonathan Ho, acting manager of the Department of Agriculture's Plant Quarantine Branch.

Instead of using mosquitoes, the department recommends using the vinegar fly, which is also able to carry the wolbachia bacteria and is less of a threat to the environment and public health.

"You want to make sure you're going to reduce all risks," said Ho.

Because female mosquitoes are the only ones that draw blood, lawmakers are also looking at eradicating the pests with genetically modified males.

"Breeding mosquitoes that only produce one gender offspring, so that as they're released out into the general population, they breed themselves completely out of existence over time," said State Rep. Chris Lee, (D) Kailua, Waimanalo.

Lee says this method has been successful in other island environments, such as the Cayman Islands and Okinawa.

Trials in the Cayman Islands used about three million modified mosquitoes and reported a 96 percent reduction in the mosquito population.

“They’re not a part of our food chain, they’re not a meaningful part of our ecosystem, and they’re also disease carriers. They can be eliminated,” said Lee.

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