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SLU researchers want your mosquito photos this summer

Mosquito Alert app
Emily Woodbury
Mosquito Alert app users are encouraged to upload photos of mosquitoes — dead and alive — and to denote prime mosquito breeding ground locations.

With warmer weather comes certain pests — including the mosquito, which is a vector for several diseases that end up killing about 725,000 people every year.

For Jean Ponzi, whose relative came down with a bad case of West Nile virus after being bitten by a mosquito, the issue is personal. Her family member ended up with long-lasting symptoms “similar to the kinds of things that we've heard about long COVID — not terminally debilitating, but serious,” she said.

The experience led Ponzi to investigate methods of preventing mosquito-borne illness. And as green resources manager for the Missouri Botanical Garden, Ponzi was particularly interested in finding eco-friendly, sustainable methods of limiting the species’ spread.

“Being an ecological advocate you know, the ‘plant girl’ from Missouri Botanical Garden, I've got to advocate for our pollinators while we're controlling the pests,” she said.

Pollinator populations, she added, are threatened by the overuse of practices like fogging, which add chemicals to the air. “It does nothing to stop mosquito breeding and can harm beneficial insects,” she said.

For public health agencies to control mosquito populations in ways that don’t harm the environment, they first need to better understand where most mosquito breeding grounds are located. Stagnant water left unattended can become the perfect place for mosquitoes to lay their eggs. Ponzi said the Mosquito Alert app, developed in Barcelona in 2016, will help researchers better identify those hot spots. She was instrumental in bringing the program to St. Louis by fostering a collaboration among St. Louis University, the Missouri Botanical Garden and the St. Louis and St. Louis County health departments.

Jean Ponzi and Ricardo Wray
Emily Woodbury
Jean Ponzi, left, is green resources manager for the Missouri Botanical Garden. Ricardo Wray, right, is a professor at St. Louis University.

The Mosquito Alert STL invites citizen scientists to track mosquito species and populations by uploading photos and information of mosquitoes they encounter in their neighborhoods.

“St. Louis [is] the first place in the U.S. to use mosquito alert with the community and with a research component,” Ponzi said.

Ponzi and St. Louis University public health professor Ricardo Wray joined Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air to share their hopes for the app and to share little-known facts about mosquitoes and their role in the ecosystem. Find this episode of St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher, or by clicking the play button below.

Mosquito Alert STL calls for citizen scientists

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.