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HomeTechnology & ScienceHot, dry N.W.T. weather keeping the mosquitoes down — for now

Hot, dry N.W.T. weather keeping the mosquitoes down — for now

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Have you noticed fewer mosquitoes in your community this summer? 

You aren’t alone. 

Taz Stuart, an entomologist who works with the N.W.T. government, said mosquito populations throughout the territory are, generally speaking, lower than average. That’s because most types of mosquitoes “love water,” and conditions in parts of the territory have been hot and dry instead. 

It’s still early in the season, though, he said.

“If you could give me a crystal ball and tell me when it’s going to rain, where and how much, then I can give you a summer [mosquito] forecast,” said Stuart. Limited by available weather data however, Stuart said he can only predict the mosquito season for up to two weeks. 

For that time, he expects populations to remain below average across the territory. 

Mary Teya, an 85-year-old woman living in Fort McPherson, said her community has noticed a decline in mosquitoes and flies over the past 10 years.

Further north in Aklavik, Freddie Greenland painted a different picture. 

“There’s lots of mosquitoes. Especially if you go out on the land. Out on the land, you’re going to get billions,” he said. “It’s good when we have a wind [that] keeps them away.” 

Stuart, an independent contractor, helps the territory monitor and test mosquitoes for viruses in the Yellowknife and Dehcho regions. He said the insects are water-dependent, and areas with more rain will see more mosquitoes. 

How will the changing climate affect mosquitoes?

Although you might lump all mosquitoes together as pesky nuisances, Stuart said there are actually 2,500 species of mosquitoes globally — 39 of which are present in the N.W.T. 

Nine of those species were discovered in the territory in the last ten years, he said, which could be a sign the changing climate is making conditions in the N.W.T. favourable for more types of mosquitoes. 

One of those new species is Culex tarsalis. Stuart said it’s “sneaky biter” that can “carry just about any human transmissible disease” including West Nile — but there aren’t large numbers of that species in the N.W.T. yet.

As the climate continues to warm, Stuart said more mosquito species might move north. It could be a problem if those particular types of mosquitoes are able to carry harmful diseases. 

Still no West Nile in the N.W.T.

The N.W.T. government says no mosquitoes from the N.W.T. have tested positive for malaria, West Nile or the Zika virus. Some have tested positive for California serogroup viruses, which include the Snowshoe hare and Jamestown Canyon viruses. 

Although the territory says the risk of contracting a mosquito-borne virus is very low, Stuart urged people not to be complacent — even in places where it’s hot and dry. 

“Don’t assume you don’t have the virus, always assume you might get it,” he said. 

Stuart said bug repellant with DEET is the “gold standard,” but sprays with icaridin (also known as picaridin) work too. He said people can also wear light-coloured clothing and stay inside during times mosquitoes are most active (dusk and dawn) to lower the risk of being bitten.

He said people can also dump, drain, fill and treat standing water on their properties to eliminate mosquito larvae. 

What mosquitoes mean for biodiversity

Though some countries are working to control mosquito populations, Stuart said he doubts a mosquito species could be completely eradicated in the N.W.T. 

Like it or not, he said, they are a part of the territory’s biodiversity. 

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“They are food for other organisms. Dragonflies are my favourite, of course. They will feed on them in the water and in the air. Toads, birds, ducks — they will feed on the larvae,” said Stuart, adding that if mosquitoes were to disappear — something else might take their place in the food chain. 

Back in Fort McPherson, Teya said she’s concerned about the changes she’s seeing in her community: fewer mosquitoes and flies, fewer animals and an abundance of flowers and plants. 

“I think people need to talk about these things. I think people need to talk about them and teach their children and grandchildren about how it used to be and how it is today.” 

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