My research focuses on filth flies. One of the benefits of working with filth flies is that I don’t have to worry about welts suddenly popping up on my legs and arms if one of them escapes. Mosquitoes, on the other hand, are clever little punks that know how to sniff me out – whether I’m in a city of smog or in a field of poppies.
Once bitten, a whole suite of emotions grow over me. I become frustrated over how I should have applied repellant or worn long pants. The bite site itches while my bitterness swells over my lack of preparedness. I cannot go through a normal day without at least once scratching the bite site and being reminded of how I should have known better. I’m sure many of you also feel the same way after having been bitten by a mosquito. Fortunately, there is a way to direct that anger while contributing to the scientific efforts to learn more about these suckers.
Mosquito Byte, a smart phone app for Android and iPhone, released this past May (2016), is easy to use and doesn’t take much phone memory. Now, instead of scratching haplessly at a newly formed bite site, all you have to do is lift up your favorite finger and press it with determination on the red mosquito located on the bottom of the screen (see figure 1). Granted the app only allows one press per 10 minutes, but releasing that one button press will likely make you feel better because you are contributing to science.
This citizen science project currently has a few participants in across the US and internationally but we expect this number to grow substantially as word spreads about this app. The time and location (accurate to 100 meters) from each button press gets recorded on a map that is publicly available for outreach and teaching purposes:
The map updates regularly so feel free to return to the map and check it out. With this map, anyone can see mosquito activities around the world over time and across continents.
As more people begin to use the app, some wonder if there could be users falsifying reports and pressing buttons for pure joy. As with any other vector control surveillance method, there is always going to be the regular complainers, but when 10-15 of the other neighbors submit new complaints about mosquitoes, we know this is more actionable than the 1 constant complaint. Also other factors are at play besides the blip of a mosquito siting. For example, the field knowledge of the landscape and knowing areas that are common to mosquito infestation would play a role in advising control agents.
Of course there is that problem that some users won’t be able to tell a mosquito from a midge. A mosquito bite can easily be mistaken for a chigger bite. With further development of the app, we anticipate the ability to assist users in distinguishing the different biting insects from mosquitoes and ultimately, we hope that users will be able to identify mosquitoes to genus or species. This would especially be useful for distinguishing possible vector-borne disease risks that are specific to particular mosquito species. Also by correlating the time of day and location with the bite, we would be able to narrow down the probability of encountering certain mosquitoes.
Free and open source – for more information contact Dr. Michael Reiskind.