You’ve probably heard the children’s song about the old lady who swallowed a fly, followed by swallowing a spider to catch the fly, and at least a half-dozen other creatures, each to eat the animal that came before it. (The law of unintended consequences, etc.) Something of the same sort may be in the works for Hawaii, with scientists considering unprecedented measures for the best of reasons.

The U.S. island chain was mosquito-free until 1826. Since then, mosquitoes have flourished and begun to pose a serious danger to wildlife, including birds. The latest threat they carry is avian malaria, which threatens to devastate the ‘i’iwi, a honeycreeper already listed as Vulnerable. (‘i’iwi image above by the U.S. Fish and Wildlfie Service)

In response, various conservation stakeholders are considering whether to combat the malaria-carrying mosquitos with genetically modified skeeters. The plan would involve releasing bugs which are genetically manipulated to produce offspring that die quickly, leaving fewer and fewer to reproduce and eventually driving down the total population. If conducted, this would be, as an article in MIT Technology Review says, “the first ‘landscape-scale’ use of gene-modified insects.”

Whether the project actually happens, and if so whether it succeeds without any unintended environmental consequences, remains to be seen. In the meantime, you might want to book a trip to Hawaii to see ‘i’wi while you still can. If you do, make sure you load up on bug spray.

Written by Meredith Mann
The lowly Red-winged Blackbirds in suburban New York triggered Meredith Mann's interest in birds. Five years later, she's explored some of the the USA's coolest hotspots, from Plum Island in Massachusetts to the Magic Hedge in Chicago to the deserts of Fallon, Nevada. She recently migrated from the Windy City (where she proudly served as a Chicago Bird Collision Monitor, rescuing migrants from skyscrapers and sidewalks) to Philadelphia, where she plans to find new editing and writing gigs; keep up her cool-finds chronicle, Blog5B; and discover which cheesesteak really is the best. And she will accept any and all invitations to bird Cape May, NJ.