British Columbia

Slap it, send it: UBC researcher wants you to mail him dead mosquitoes for climate change study

The zoology department at the University of British Columbia is conducting a citizen-led project to find out how many species of the off-swatted pest live across B.C. and Yukon, and what diseases they might carry.

Dan Peach says climate change may have pushed more blood-sucking insects into B.C. and Yukon

A mosquito perches on the wrist of a human.
A culex mosquito, the species of the insect known to transmit West Nile virus, is pictured on human skin. UBC entomologist Dan Peach is asking British Columbians and Yukoners to send him dead mosquitoes in the mail so he can track how different species are moving north as a result of climate change. (Adam Blake)

Our planet is changing. So is our journalism. This story is part of a CBC News initiative entitled "Our Changing Planet" to show and explain the effects of climate change. Keep up with the latest news on our Climate and Environment page.

For most of us, the buzz of a pesky mosquito can be torturous, but for Vancouver-based scientist Dan Peach, it's music to his ears.

Peach, an entomologist at the University of British Columbia, is working on a citizen-led project to find out how many species of the oft-swatted pest live provincewide, and what diseases they might carry.

He says there are about 50 known species in B.C., but there are gaps in the knowledge researchers have about the distribution of both native and invasive mosquitoes, and he's asking people to help scientists learn more.

Peach says he suspects there are half a dozen mosquito species that are now circulating in British Columbia and Yukon but haven't been confirmed.

"There are parts of the province that have never been surveyed. There are parts of the province that have been surveyed by experts decades ago and they said, 'Oh, I think this might be something new,' but they never had a chance to follow up on it," Peach said.

To participate in his study, the instructions are pretty basic: Slap it and send it.

Mosquito carcasses are pinned inside a sample collection box with tags that show where and when the insects were killed. Dan Peach says mosquitoes, as carriers of various diseases, are one of the deadliest animals. (Submitted by Dan Peach)

'World's deadliest animal'

Peach and his colleagues at his UBC lab want you to mail them your squished blood-sucking casualties so they can take a look. 

He says he is particularly concerned about mosquitoes that could be migrating to Canada from the south because of climate change, and then spreading diseases like West Nile fever.

"They absolutely are the world's deadliest animal," Peach said to host Sarah Penton on CBC's Radio West.

"They've killed approximately half of all people that have ever lived."

Dan Peach, right, and a UBC zoology student examine mosquito samples at a UBC lab. Peach says there are still many unconfirmed mosquito species in B.C. and Yukon. (Submitted by Dan Peach)

Peach is asking mosquito-mailers to provide information about when and where the insects were killed. The data will be used to build current distribution maps and to model species distribution shifts in the future.

He said that after receiving the samples, he and his teammates will grind the insects up and extract their DNA to identify the species and add them to a database.

He recommends people fold the carcasses in a piece of paper. They don't even have to be that fresh to be valuable.

"As long as they're from the summer, a few weeks to a month, it should be fine," Peach said.

Mosquitoes more pervasive when climate changes

Experts warn that mosquitoes will become more pervasive during spring and summer in British Columbia when warmer climate triggers faster melting of snow and more frequent flooding, creating perfect conditions for more mosquitoes to hatch.

In 2015, researchers from Simon Fraser University and the Burnaby pest control company Culex Environmental Ltd. found the mosquito species Aedes japonicus, which can cause serious diseases like La Crosse encephalitis and West Nile fever, had been established in B.C.'s Lower Mainland, and said it would likely be found in other parts of the province.

UBC entomologist Dan Peach is asking people from B.C. and Yukon to submit carcasses of mosquitoes they killed, in order to study how climate change may have forced more mosquitoes to the two regions. (Adam Blake)

Although the study said the mosquito could pose a significant threat, Culex employee Michael Jackson, the study's lead investigator, said there wasn't yet any risk to the public. 

"[The mosquito] is capable of carrying particular diseases only if that disease is present, and none of the diseases it carries are present," he said to CBC News in 2015.

To contribute to Peach's fact-finding mosquito mission, you can mail your samples to: 

The Ben Matthews lab, UBC Department of Zoology, 4200-6270 University Blvd., Vancouver, B.C. V6T 1Z4.

With files from Radio West