Hawaii implements mosquito ‘birth control’ to protect native birds

Photo: Department of Land and Natural Resources

Scientists are taking the first steps to adapt a “birth control” method used across the U.S. mainland to control mosquitoes here in Hawaii.

The goal is to protect Hawaii’s native birds from diseases that can be spread by disease-carrying mosquitoes, such as avian malaria and avian pox.

The method, known as “Incompatible Insect Technique,” only applies to one of six types of mosquitoes found in Hawaii: Culex quinquefasciatus. It involves introducing a different strain of the Wolbachia bacteria to male mosquitoes, which makes them unable to produce offspring.

“Essentially what happens is when you release males, if they mate with wild females, they have a different type of bacteria. They don’t produce any offspring. There is no viable offspring, and this can be done to suppress wild populations in mosquitoes,” explained Floyd Reed, an assistant biology professor at University of Hawaii at Manoa.

“The process for mosquitoes is very similar to techniques that have been used for many decades in Hawaii to control pest fruit flies for the benefit of agriculture,” said Cynthia King, an entomologist with the Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife. “It doesn’t eradicate the insect, but helps to safely reduce the population on a landscape scale without the use of pesticides and without harming any other species.”

Officials say while the technique will not impact the other five mosquito species present in Hawaii, researchers hope to learn more in the process about control methods that could be applied to mosquito species that affect human health.

Mosquitoes arrived in Hawaii in the 1800s and are one reason why about two dozen species of Hawaii’s remaining native birds are threatened or on the brink of extinction.

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