More types of mosquito discovered in Yukon — that's 33 and counting

"They were known to science, but they weren't known to exist in the Yukon," said Dan Peach, a University of British Columbia researcher who's been identifying different species of mosquito in Yukon.

UBC researcher Dan Peach has confirmed at least 4 more species in the territory

Close up shot of a mosquito on a person's hand.
There are 33 species of mosquitoes known to live in Yukon — and researcher Dan Peach says there may be more still to discover. (Daniel Peach)

Here's some news that might sting — a B.C. researcher is finding new species of mosquito in Yukon.

"They were known to science, but they weren't know to exist in the Yukon," said Dan Peach, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia who specializes in mosquito research.

"We actually don't know as much as we'd like to about the biodiversity of mosquitoes. There are probably a good another half-dozen or so species that are present in the Yukon ... we just haven't confirmed it yet."

Peach has recently confirmed four species previously unknown in Yukon, bringing the total number of known mosquito species in the territory to 33.

And there may be more, he says.

"There also might be undescribed, or previously undiscovered species — species that are entirely new to science could be up there as well, they just haven't had the attention given to them that they deserve."

'We actually don't know as much as we'd like to about the biodiversity of mosquitoes,' Peach says. (Submitted by Dan Peach)

Peach has an unusual fascination with the little bloodsuckers, though he's quick to point out that not all mosquitos are in fact out for blood. And only some have a taste for humans.

"There are some that feed on birds, reptiles. There's a species in the Yukon that only feeds on amphibians," Peach said.

Some of the newly confirmed Yukon species were collected in "bioblitzes," organized events where people collect and identify as many species as possible in a given area. 

Peach has also done his own field trips to Yukon, collecting as many specimens as he can. He's not overly bothered about killing them.

"I kind of feel with mosquitoes, it's a bit of fair play," he said. 

He sometimes ends up with hundreds or thousands of dead bugs to later examine and identify under a microscope. The differences between species can be hard to spot with the naked eye — sometimes it's just a small and distinctive pattern on part of the body.

Culex tarsalis, a species of mosquito that Peach was the first to confirm is found in Yukon. (Daniel Peach/Journal of the Entomological Society of British Columbia)

Peach is also now working on a project to sequence the genome of several mosquito species.

"We're going to investigate how they go about selecting where to lay their eggs, we're going to be investigating how they taste salt," he said.

"And the sort of end goal of this, a few steps removed from that, is to try and find out how invasive species are so good at spreading to new areas."

Mosquitoes may be little more than an irritation in Yukon, but in other parts of the world they can be dangerous carriers of diseases such as malaria and dengue fever. That makes them worth more study, Peach says.

Researchers collecting mosquitoes in the field in Yukon. (Submitted by Dan Peach)

"It's thought that mosquitoes have killed half of the human beings that have ever lived. So when you think of them in that sort of context they're incredibly important," he said.

"There's all this fascinating natural history and ecology to them, and it's important to know that stuff to better control them and to help combat some of the pathogens they spread."

Peach is also interested in doing more study on how effective mosquitoes are as pollinators. A lot of research in recent decades has focused on mosquitoes' relationship to human, he says — but most mosquitoes feed on floral nectar. 

"In a world of declining pollinator populations, it's probably quite important to look at that," he said.

With files from Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada