as the eastern treehole mosquito, is one of 36 known
species that can transmit the West Nile virus.
Gathany, Public Health Image Library
Smithsonian’s collection of 1.5 million mosquitoes,
the world’s largest, is an indispensable reference
for scientists researching mosquito-borne diseases—including
the West Nile virus that first appeared in the United
States in 1999.
scientists from the Walter Reed Biosystematics Unit
curate the Museum’s collection because of their
interest in reducing the number of non-combat casualties
caused by mosquitoes. Mosquitoes can also carry malaria,
yellow fever, and dengue fever, as well as some forms
USA (Southern house mosquito)
is one of thousands of boxes that house the Smithsonian
mosquito collection at the Museum Support Center in
Suitland, Maryland. There are about 3,500 known mosquito
species, and new ones are found every year.
Research Scientist Dr. Dina Fonseca tracks the spread
of disease-bearing mosquitoes across the landscape as
well as the hybrid forms that occur when different species
mate. She identifies mosquitoes by their distinct DNA
signatures. She is currently looking at mosquitoes that
transmit avian malaria and the West Nile virus. For
Fonseca, insects are a great way to study evolutionary
illustrations, like this one of an Asian tiger mosquito
larva, help scientists identify mosquito species. Although
many adult species look very similar, the larvae and
molted skins have distinctive features.