A species of mosquito from Papua New Guinea, lost for 90 years, found in Australia
by Cameron Webb, Craig Williams, Larissa Braz Sousa and Marlene Walter, The conversation
There are already a lot of mosquitoes in Australia. They pose pest and public health risks in many parts of the country.
Now, a new species of mosquito, Aedes shehzadae, has been discovered 90 years after it was first (and only other sighted) in Papua New Guinea, and it’s thanks to citizen science.
Mosquitoes and their health threats
Mosquitoes are simple creatures, but they pose complex health risks. The recent and widespread arrival of the Japanese encephalitis virus, which has caused dozens of cases of sickness and five deaths, recalls the threat posed by mosquitoes in Australia.
To address this threat, there are surveillance programs for mosquitoes and mosquito-borne pathogens in states and territories across the country. Our borders are controlled by the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment for the arrival of invasive mosquitoes with international travellers, their belongings or cargo.
These programs collect valuable information about local and invasive mosquitoes. But they can’t be everywhere – that’s where citizen science can intervene.
We can learn more about mosquitoes and how they spread across the country, with the help of volunteers”citizen scientists“. Individuals or groups can participate in projects such as Zika Mozzie Seeker Where Mozzie Monitors. Mozzie Monitors has grown in recent years to become the only national program, primarily focused on the annual report Mozzie month.
Citizen scientists can also upload mosquito photographs to online platforms such as iNaturalist, which makes it possible to observe insects in nature. An analysis of over 2,000 mosquito sightings uploaded to iNaturalist revealed an astonishing 57 species observed across Australia.
And one of the most notable sightings uploaded to iNaturalist in recent years has been a mysterious and distinctive mosquito, Aedes shehzadae.
A 90-year-old discovery in the making
Aedes shehzadae was first captured in Australia by photographer John Lenagan in 2021, while searching for moths in Kutini-Payamu National Park (Iron Range) in Cape York, Queensland .
The photo launched a cascade of investigations into mosquito collections held at research institutes and museums across Australia. They even extended to the Natural History Museum in London.
We and our colleagues have detailed the circumstances surrounding this unique discovery in this month’s edition of Vector Ecology Diary.
Lenagan’s photo was not only the first time Aedes shehzadae was observed in Australia, it was also the second time this mosquito was officially recorded. The discovery could have gone unnoticed if the photo had not been uploaded to iNaturalist and aroused interest.
The only other specimen of this mosquito was collected in Papua New Guinea in 1934, nearly 90 years ago. It was collected by a remarkable unpaid entomologist named Lucy Evelyne Cheesman and stored in the Natural History Museum, until it is formally described in 1972 by Malaria Institute of Pakistan entomologist M. Qutubiddin (first name unconfirmed). He named the mosquito after his daughter.
Cheese maker was a tenacious naturalist who collected about 70,000 specimens of insects, plants, and other animals for the Museum of Natural History, many of them on expeditions to the Southwest Pacific.
We don’t know much about Aedes shehzadae. We don’t even know if this is a new arrival in Australia or if it just hasn’t been seen before. In all likelihood, this will not pose a significant threat to our backyards.
But that can’t be said for other exotic and invasive mosquitoes knocking on our door. Mosquitoes such as Aedes albopictus, or the “tiger mosquito”, could be a game-changer for mosquito-borne diseases in Australia.
Much has been made of the potential of citizen science to help health authorities identify exotic and invasive mosquitoes. This has been the case in Europe. And these programs may well be instrumental in tracking newly arrived mosquitoes that have hitchhiked with travelers or freight in Australia’s backyards and bush.
We are used to female mosquitoes biting us for blood, but we are less aware of the flowers they visit to help pollination. We also don’t know much about animals that eat mosquitoes, so maybe a few pictures of them being caught in spider webs would help as well.
There is no doubt that participants in citizen science projects can contribute significantly to our understanding of the distribution of native and invasive species. According to Aedes shehzadae, anyone with a camera and some curiosity can be the discoverer of a new species or the arrival of a new mosquito.
Quote: Papua New Guinea mosquito species, lost for 90 years, found in Australia (June 8, 2022) Retrieved June 8, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-06-mosquito-species-papua- guinea-lost.html
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