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Hawaiian honeycreepers have a 90% death rate when bitten by mosquito

A male Hawaiʻi ΄ākepa
Ann Tanimoto-Johnson
Hawai΄i ΄ākepa are among the smallest of all honeycreepers. They weigh only about ten grams or third of an ounce.

The multi-agency “Birds, Not Mosquitoes” initiative traps and studies mosquitos that infect native birds with avian malaria.

"Birds, Not Mosquitoes" is in partnership with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

The team is currently surveying high-elevation areas between 4,000 and 6,000 feet on Hawaiʻi Island. Climate change-induced warming means mosquitoes have moved higher into areas with endangered Hawaiian honeycreepers.

The collected mosquitoes are sent to Northern Arizona University or a U.S. Geological Service lab in Honolulu.

The research will help determine where to potentially use male mosquitoes that cannot mate with wild female mosquitoes to limit their population.

"The truth is, mosquitoes are not native to Hawaiʻi, and they have no role in the environment that cannot be filled by other insects and so there’s no downside to eliminating them," said avian disease research supervisor Cara Thow.

"What we are seeing now is the beginning, essentially, of potentially, very devastating effects on the native bird life. So right here in Pu‘u Maka‘ala at 4,000 feet, 30 years ago, we wouldn’t catch a single Culex mosquito, and now we're catching 40 overnight," Thow said.

Thow says Hawaiian honeycreepers have a 90% chance of death once it is bitten by a female mosquito with malaria.

Zoe Dym was a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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