Mosquito ‘birth control’ project that could save Hawaiian honeycreeper is moving forward

Federal and state officials are working to save Native Hawaiian birds on the brink of extinction by targetting mosquitoes.
Published: Oct. 14, 2023 at 1:23 PM HST|Updated: 12 hours ago
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A mosquito birth control project is moving forward on Kauai.

The project called “Birds, Not Mosquitoes” is working with the state to help import mosquitoes implanted with Wolbachia, a bacterium that would curb reproduction of wild mosquitoes that carry avian malaria — which is killing off the endemic Hawaiian honeycreeper.

A recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study shows that the Incompatible Insect Technique or ITT will not significantly impact the environment.

ITT is the process of releasing male mosquitoes infected with a bacteria that prevents them from reproducing, therefore reducing the spread of avian malaria to native birds.

“If we did nothing, then these birds would go extinct, no question, and so IIT is one of the tools that we and our partners are using,” said Megan Laut, a recovery project manager with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“Ultimately, we want them to be living in the wild. Through utilizing IIT, we will make the habitat safe again.”

HNN previously reported on the project and the pushback from environmentalists concerned about the potential dangers if other animals ingested these mosquitoes.

“They’re not really presenting to the public that they’re using this native bird project to sort of start, I would say a trojan horse,” said Tina Lia, founder of environmental non-profit Hawaii Unites. “We’re brining mosquitos in and everyone is just gonna accept that.”


Hawaii Unites is legally challenging use of IIT on both Kauai and Maui.

Pending final approval, DLNR, and federal agencies would release the mosquitos over 60,000 acres in the Kokee and Alakai Wilderness area.

The DLNR said that all three of these species are already present in Hawaii.

Additional facts:

  • The birth control process for the mosquitoes can be reversed since the implanted bacterium is not self-sustaining. If scientists choose to reverse the cycle, BNM says they could stop releasing male mosquitoes and they would then die out.
  • Wolbachia, the bacteria used to make the mosquitoes infertile, was first introduced to Hawaii in 1826.
  • Scientists say climate change contributes to the extinction of the Hawaiian honeycreeper. Mosquitoes are attracted to warm areas. As temperatures increase in Hawaii, mosquitoes are encroaching on forest bird ecosystems.
  • Only 17 species of the honeycreeper remain, according to BNM.

For more information on the project, click here.