Mosquitoes will make their mark at the campsite, wreak havoc at barbeques and interrupt sleep this summer, but now Te Papa wants Kiwis to collect them and send them in to their national mosquito census.
The aim of the citizen science project is to determine what is believed – that the country’s 13 endemic species are in decline due to land use changes and the three introduced species are increasing in numbers.
“We think that they might out-compete our native mosquitoes and that’s what we want to find out...” Te Papa entomologist Dr Julia Kasper said.
She said the Ministry of Health and New Zealand BioSecure run a national mosquito surveillance program at sea ports and airports but native mosquitoes are more likely to be found in natural habitats like the bush.
“Since the native mosquitoes are not known to transmit diseases, I think they are a bit neglected," Kasper said.
“Some of those species are so under-researched we do not actually know what they feed on at all.”
It’s hoped the census will provide some answers.
“How far the native mosquitoes still spread over New Zealand, do we find new records from places maybe we haven’t known about before.”
Specimens from Cape Reinga to Rakiura / Stewart Island are needed.
“Now I need to get the people who are out in the bush and get me those rare ones,” she said.
People submitting a mosquito are asked to fill in the census form on Te Papa’s website.
It’s best if submitters use a freezer to kill the mosquito to retain its scales for identification and send the specimen to Te Papa in a sturdy container, Kasper said.
“Some people have put the mosquito just in an envelope and then I just got a few legs when I unpacked it.”
The first collection last summer was cut short when the country went into lockdown because of Covid-19, with postage restricted to essential items.
“Someone from a farm in Northland, she sent so many samples in and we found out that she had four different species on her farm… children said farewell to their mozzie and they gave them names but obviously they didn’t mind that they got killed… Others said, ‘This is my revenge, bloody mozzie, you will never bite me again,’” Kasper said of the varied submissions.
This season it’s hoped hundreds of specimens will be sent in, and the project is expected to run for several years.
Wellington student Siobhan Barnard’s already taken part and is encouraging others to contribute to the country’s scientific knowledge on mosquitoes.
“I think it’s really fascinating, honestly, it’s really cool to learn about species that you don’t really think about," Barnard said.
“There’s a stigma and a fear behind them or maybe some sort of disgust and I think if you look more closely to them, I think you’ll find the interest.”
Te Papa will respond to submitters with the name of the species they submitted and try to answer any questions the public might have.