Big Mosquito Bytes proposes citizen science and big data as a solution against epidemics caused by mosquitoes

The Big Mosquito Bytes project has been selected within the “la Caixa” heath call. The project will combine citizen science and other massive data sources to develop innovative models that illuminate the risk of mosquito-borne disease in real time. The project, led by CEAB-CSIC, involves scientists from UPF, the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, the National Center for Epidemiology of ISPIII and CREAF participate, and draws heavily on the Mosquito Alert citizen science platform.


The “la Caixa” Banking Foundation promotes the Big Mosquito Bytes project with one million euros to help prevent outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases. The project, led by Frederic Bartumeus, ICREA researcher at CEAB and CREAF, will use citizen science and big data to make real-time predictions of the risk of mosquito-borne diseases like dengue, chikungunya and Zika. “We propose to innovate epidemiology by developing mathematical modes based on real-time data intelligence,” says Bartumeus. The models will incorporate current data on imported mosquito-borne disease cases detected in Spain, along with environmental and climate data and socio-economic and human mobility data. The models will also rely on data from the Mosquito Alert citizen science application showing the distribution of disease-vector mosquitos. The result will be significant improvements in our ability to anticipate the focus of infection and the risk of epidemics, and this will allow more effective entomological and health management. According to Bartumeus, “this improvement in management is the best vaccine to protect the population.”

One of the innovative aspects of the project will be its use of new technologies to study where and how people move, detecting patterns that are important for epidemiological models, and studying how these patterns change at different temporal scales – across days, weeks, or years. Similarly, the project will examine how precipitation and temperature influence the amount of mosquitoes and its biting behavior throughout the year. Big Mosquito Bytes will also use the Mosquito Alert app to learn more about the number of bites people are receiving at different times. The Mosquito Alert mobile application is part of a pioneering system of citizen science in Spain that allows anyone to report the mosquitoes the find by uploading photos. Now, thanks to Big Mosquito Bytes this application will also have the possibility to collect the number of bites received daily, an option so far not available.

Frederic Bartumeus is leading Big Mosquito Bytes


The collaboration between the citizens and the Public Health institutions will allow a greater flow of information and make that one accessible to the population. “Real-time maps will allow better management and better knowledge of the risk of outbreaks of diseases transmitted by the tiger mosquito,” says Diana Gomez-Barroso, an epidemiologist at the National Center for Epidemiology (CNE) CIBERSP / ISCIII. “Big Mosquito Bytes will work mainly on the risks of the tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus), which is currently the only mosquito that can transmit dengue, Zika and chikungunya, on the Iberian peninsula, but Mosquit Alert is prepared for the detection of the yellow fever mosquito (Aedes aegypti). An even more fearsome transmitter for dengue”, said Roger Eritja, expert entomologist of CREAF.

This is a situation where an important societal challenge can be addressed only with an interdisciplinary team that includes ecologists, demographers, epidemiologists and computer scientists”, said Emilio Zagheni from Max Planck Institute of Demography (MDPIR). For that reason the team led by Frederic Bartumeus will consist of experts from different disciplines: the sociodemographer John Palmer from Pompeu Fabra University (UPF), the demographer Emilio Zagheni from Max Planck Institute for Demography (MPDIR), the epidemiologist Diana Gómez-Barroso from the National Center for Epidemiology (CNE) CIBERESP / ISCIII and the entomologist Roger Eritja from CREAF. Some of them are part of the Mosquito Alert citizen science platform, one of the pillars of the project.


What is the relationship between social inequality and mosquito-borne disease?

One question Big Mosquito Bytes will explore is how mosquito-borne disease patterns are shaped by social inequality and, in turn, end up exacerbating this inequality. The project will examine the ways in which urban design, human mobility patterns, social and economic segregation, and gender inequality influence the distribution of mosquitoes. “This will help us develop ways to reduce the massive and unequal burden that mosquito-borne diseases place on society worldwide” said John Palmer, a sociodemographer at the Pompeu Fabra University.

An idea shared by Emilio Zagheni who considers that “by improving our understanding of mobility and infectious disease dynamics in a scalable way, the impact and relevance of the results will go well beyond the Spanish case”.

First detection of Aedes japonicus in Spain thanks to citizen scientists

  • Aedes japonicus is an invasive insect capable of transmitting diseases such as West Nile virus.
  • The mosquito was found in Asturias (North Spain) when a person sent a photo of the insect with the Mosquito Alert app.
  • The finding has been evaluated by entomologists of Mosquito Alert together with members of the University of Zaragoza responsible for the entomological surveillance project of the Ministry of Health, Consumption and Social Welfare.
  • The current risk of disease transmission is very low but it is recommended to reinforce the information campaigns among the citizens to avoid its expansion and report any suspicion.
Aedes japonicus. ECDC

Aedes japonicus. Photo: ECDC


The Aedes japonicus mosquito has arrived for the first time in Spain and South of Europe. The finding has been confirmed by a first Rapid Risk Assessment report issued by the Health Alerts and Emergencies Coordination Center this July.

At early June, the citizen science platform Mosquito Alert, coordinated by CREAF, CEAB-CSIC and ICREA, promoted by Obra Social “la Caixa” and co-financed by Dipsalut (Public Health Agency of the Diputación de Girona) and the Departament de Salut of the Generalitat de Catalunya, received a photo of a suspicious mosquito through the app, sent from the area of the council of Siero, in the Principality of Asturias. After receiving this first notification the person was asked to send by mail adult and larval specimens, on which the suspicion was confirmed. Subsequently, a field inspection was carried out at the site of the discovery led by Mosquito Alert entomologists together with members of the entomological team of the University of Zaragoza and responsible for the Entomological Surveillance project of the Ministry of Health, Consumption and Social Welfare. According to the statements of Mosquito Alert entomologist team leader Roger Eritja, “after reviewing the area we were able to find all the biological phases of the vector at several points away from each other, suggesting that the mosquito is already established in an area that it can be much broader, although more studies will be needed to confirm it. ”

The main concern of the arrival of the Aedes japonicus mosquito is that, apart from causing discomfort with its bites similar to those of other mosquitoes, it has the ability to transmit several viruses, among which the most relevant in Spain would be West Nile. In laboratory conditions, it has also been proven that it is capable of being infected with dengue and Chikungunya. However, experts and authorities note that at this time the risk of this mosquito can transmit diseases in Spain is very low. “We must consider that the risk of transmission of these diseases depends on the number of mosquitoes that are present and whether the virus is circulating among the population. On the other hand, there are other factors such as the contact that may exist between the vector and the host. At this time the number of mosquitoes we do not think is very high and neither do the other conditions in Asturias”, explains Roger Eritja.

Los entomólogos inspeccionando la zona donde se encontró el mosquito. Foto: Roger Eritja

Entomologists at the field during the inspection. Foto: Roger Eritja


In the current situation, Mosquito Alert encourages people in Asturias and neighboring communities to download the app and actively collaborate with those delimitation studies, sending as many images of mosquitoes as possible. “This finding demonstrates once again the utility of the Mosquito Alert platform as a tool for early surveillance of invasive mosquitoes. We remember that beyond the tiger mosquito and have now found the Aedes japonicus, we are still looking for the yellow fever mosquito”, explains Frederic Bartumeus, director of Mosquito Alert.

It is expected that during the next months the experts carry out more studies in the area to better delimit the affected area and, if possible, find out the origin of the arrival of this mosquito. The authorities recommend applying control measures by the public to prevent the proliferation of invasive mosquitoes such as the tiger mosquito, which is already widespread throughout the Spanish coast and some points of the interior. Some of these tips are to avoid the accumulations of water in the particular spaces and to go to the doctor if the stings evolve unfavorably.

How Aedes japonicus looks like?

Apparently, the Aedes japonicus mosquito may remind the tiger mosquito or the yellow fever mosquito for its stripes, but they are really different. The Aedes japonicus is much larger than them, is brown and as a characteristic feature has several golden lines on the thorax. It can fly long distances and is very resistant to cold. Breeding in flooded areas, such as tires, containers, buckets, even puddles on the rocks, and their chopping activity is evident during the day and at twilight. Unlike the tiger mosquito it is not an insect so urban or so aggressive for people and is often found in wooded areas.

Fotos de un ejemplar de Aedes japonicus capturado en el lugar de la inspección. Foto: Roger Eritja

Photos of Aedes japonicus captured from the side of Asturias. Foto: Roger Eritja


Human activity has favored its global expansion

The Aedes japonicus mosquito is native to Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Southeast China, and Russia, but has been expanding to new geographic areas across the planet since the 1990s largely due to human commercial activity. In the year 2000, it was detected for the first time in the north of France, where it was eliminated. But later it was detected in several countries of central and northern Europe, following the continental climatic zones, such as Switzerland, Germany, Holland, Slovenia, Hungary, and Italy. It is also present in the United States since the 90s and in southern Canada.



Pioneering UN Backed, Citizen Led Alliance against Mosquito Borne Diseases Joins Global Fight to Save 2.7 Million Lives Every Year

Initiative Empowers National Networks, Stakeholders and Governments to Generate and Access Real-time Data and Tools through UN Electronic Platform ‘Environment Live”.

Miembros participantes de la reunión a la sede de las Naciones Unidas (Ginebra).

Participants of the meeting at United Nations in Geneva. Frederic Bartumeus, John Palmer and Roger Eritja assisted as members of Mosquito Alert.


A new alliance of citizen-science organisations and UN Environment will be launched, Monday, in an effort to escalate the global fight against mosquito-borne diseases, responsible for killing close to 2.7 million people annually, mostly in Africa and Latin America. Overall mosquito borne cases are estimated at 500 million every year.

The new initiative, launched under the name ‘Global Mosquito Alert’, brings together thousands of scientists and volunteers from around the world to track and control mosquito borne viruses, including Zika, yellow fever, Chikungunya, dengue, malaria and the West Nile virus. It is the first global platform dedicated to citizen science techniques to tackle the monitoring of mosquito populations. The programme is expected to move forward as a collaboration involving the European, Australian and American Citizen Science Associations as well as the developing citizen science community in Southeast Asia.

Agreement to launch the initiative was reached at a two-day workshop that took place in Geneva earlier this month, organised by UN Environment, the Wilson Center’s Science and Technology Innovation Program (STIP), and the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA).

Director of Science at UN Environment, Jacqueline McGlade, said, “The Global Mosquito Alert will offer for the first time a shared platform to leverage citizen science for the global surveillance and control of disease-carrying mosquitos. It is a unique infrastructure that is open for all to use and may be augmented with modular components and implemented on a range of scales to meet local and global research and management needs.”

She added, “The programme will offer the benefit of the millions spent in developing existing mosquito monitoring projects to local citizen science groups around the world.  Opportunities to keep these citizen-led initiatives at the cutting edge of science will now depend on securing major funding to support the ongoing programme development and its promotion to millions of people world-wide.”

Los miembros de la iniciativa se reunieron durante dos días en Ginebra.

The members of the initiative were on a two-days meeting, lead by the Mosquito Task & Finish Group from ECSA.


The Global Mosquito Alert will be supported by a consortium of data and information providers, coordinated through Environment Live, the dynamic UN knowledge platform, designed to collect, process and share the world’s best environmental science and research. Built and maintained by UN Environment, the platform provides real-time open data access to policy makers and the general public, using distributed networks, cloud computing, big data and improved search functions.

The consortium includes: Mosquito Alert, Spain; MosquitoWEB Portugal; Zanzamapp in Italy; Muggenradar in the Netherlands; the Globe Observer Mosquito Habitat Mapper, USA/International and the Invasive Mosquito Project USA.

The information displayed on Environment Live will allow managers to mitigate risk and reduce health threats while opening up an opportunity for concerned citizens to contribute their mosquito observations and possible solutions.  Citizen data will augment information already available from Government public health sources.

The new consortium has agreed to share current approaches to monitor the spread of key mosquito species and their breeding sites, and to measure the nuisance value of the citizen mosquito experience to support health risk management.  The group also agreed to pool knowledge and experience on citizen science programmes to monitor mosquito species using the latest DNA identification techniques.

Available the Mosquito Alert annual report 2016

The document brings together the results of all the activities carried out by the project during 2016 on citizen participation, scientific activity, expert validation, maps, data, education and internationalisation among other innovations.

First, the project has incorporated the yellow fever mosquito as another target species, in addition to the well-known tiger mosquito. We have worked on a new map of observations that will allow to expand the activities of surveillance and control of the tiger mosquito and the yellow fever mosquito by the responsible entities. We have also improved the Mosquito Alert app and every time we receive more and better tiger mosquito observations. Finally, this 2016 has also been important to take the first steps towards the internationalisation of the project and we have been released in the educational field.

Mosquito Alert, recognized by the United Nations

The project has been included in the portal of the Environmental Programme of the United Nations (UNEP) as an exemplary citizen science project promoting human health worldwide.

Los datos de Mosquito Alert se pueden consultar en el apartado de Salud Global del portal UNEP.

El mapa de Mosquito Alert se puede consultar en el apartado de Salud Global del portal UNEP.

As of November 2016, the map and data of citizen observations created through Mosquito Alert have been accessible through the international portal of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP). The UNEP selects some of the foremost projects related to health and the environment, and considers Mosquito Alert as a benchmark project tackling world health issues. “The philosophy of our project is valued, based on involving citizens in public health issues on a worldwide scale through citizen science,” says Frederic Bartumeus, director of Mosquito Alert and researcher at ICREA, CREAF, and CEAB-CSIC.

The project became known to Members of the European Parliament when John Palmer, Mosquito Alert member and researcher at Pompeu Fabra University (UPF), presented the project in Brussels in September 2016. “It was at that point that the Director of Research at UNEP Jacqueline McGlade became interested in highlighting Mosquito Alert within this international portal,” says John Palmer.

Greater visibility within Europe

Some of the UNEP’s objectives are to help set the European environmental agenda, promote greater visibility for some of the most troublesome environmental and health issues, and provide solutions to such problems. It also serves as a reference portal for information on health and the environment. “We are put on the same stage as large initiatives such as the Noah project on biodiversity. Forming a part of this portal provides us with new opportunities and will position the project on the European level and internationally,” says Bartumeus.

The first mini Mosquito Alert “army” is on the march in Hong Kong

A school in Hong Kong has launched its first pilot project to involve students in citizen science and know the problematics of the tiger mosquito in the Asian region.

The teacher Dickson Ho Tik Shun and the selected students./CFSS

The teacher Dickson Ho Tik Shun and the selected students./CFSS

This October the Chinese Foundation Secondary School (CFSS) has started a Mosquito Alert pilot project in their school situated at the Eastern tip of Hong Kong Island. The project aims to publicize the issues of vector control in an educational environment, as well as raise awareness of the resulting public health problems including diseases like Zika.

A student using the Mosquito Alert app in Chinese.

A student using the Mosquito Alert app in Chinese./CFSS

With such a high use of mobile phones in Hong Kong, students are restricted from using phones during school hours, but this is one a number of schools in Hong Kong experimenting with BYODs or “Bring Your Own Device” days for testing out a selected number of educational apps. During the next three weeks, about 20 students have been given the task of identifying at least 5 tiger mosquitoes and a breeding site from across Hong Kong, and send it from the new android Mosquito Alert app.

“This is only a pilot, but the teacher leading this, Dickson Ho Tik Shun, is optimistic they will be able to expand the project across the school when the Mosquito breeding season starts again in the spring,” says Scott Edmunds, a member of Open Data Hong Kong and Executive Editor of open access journal GigaScience, reaffirming that Mosquito Alert is a project with great potential.

The app Mosquito Alert was translated into Chinese by the work of a team of experts from Hong Kong interested in implementing this application in the region. This has been a particularly bad year for mosquito borne diseases in Asia, with Zika becoming endemic in SE Asia, many cases of yellow fever in China, and a number of cases of dengue transmission in Hong Kong.

Students using mobile devices./CFSS

Students using mobile devices./CFSS

Where are Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus found in the world?

A worldwide study has published the largest and most complete data base on the location and presence of yellow fever mosquito (Aedes aegypti) and tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus) adults, pupae, larvae, and eggs covering the period 1960 to 2014. This collection of data was published in July 2015 in Nature’s Scientific Data, an open-access portal for high-value data.

The following interactive map shows the presence data for the two species. This is a visualisation tool for historic data of high interest, including information for some periods for which it is difficult to obtain precise data, for example the 1950s and 1970s.

See the map on the original source

Understanding the distributions of the species is crucial for disease prevention

The  yellow fever mosquito (Ae. aegypti) and the tiger mosquito (Ae. albopictus) are vectors of arboviruses of global significance, including yellow fever, chikungunya, and zika. Arboviruses are a group of viruses transmitted by arthropods, which serve as vectors. From the standpoint of public health protection, knowing and understanding the geographical distribution and presence of these vector species is quite important for planning disease prevention and control and different management interventions. The incidence of these diseases has increased significantly in the last 50 years since these two mosquito species have been able to expand into new geographical areas.

Both mosquitos use manmade containers to raise their larvae, which is why they have become abundant in urban areas. “The yellow fever mosquito is often found in houses while the tiger mosquito is more associated with vegetation and is most predominant in suburban and rural areas,” explains Dr. Roger Eritja, entomologist from the Baix Llobregat Mosquito Control Service.

What is the state of these mosquitos in Spain?

There aren’t yet any populations of Aedes aegypti in Spain. On the other hand, the tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus) is widely established in Spain, especially along the coasts of Catalonia and Valencia and in Southern Spain. However, increases in global mean temperature favour the eventual appearance of Aedes aegypti in Spain. During period 1650 to 1850 it had once been abundant as a result of introductions associated with commerce and the transport of goods. “The tiger mosquito arrived with the transport of goods, so you have to take into account that the yellow fever mosquito could arrive the same way,” says Frederic Bartumeus, director of the project. Recently, the Canarian Government has announced the finding of some individuals of yellow fever mosquito at the Fuerteventura island, according to the Entomological Surveillance System actions.

Aedes aegypti, the yellow fever mosquito

Aedes aegypti is the mosquito known as the yellow fever mosquito. Like the tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus), it belongs to the Aedes genus, and these two are closely related. Entomologists are always prepared to remind us that in fact, both belong to an Aedes sub-genus called Stegomyia (derived from ancient Greek stegos: under the roof, and myria: fly).

aedes aegypti_mark yokoyama_(CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)_02

Yellow fever mosquito (Aedes aegypti). Credit: Mark Yokoyama (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


The yellow fever mosquito has white scales in the shape of a lyre on the thorax

Adult Aedes aegypti are small and dark brown colored with white lines covering the body and legs. Their appearance is similar to the tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus) but are in fact a bit different. They are differentiated from other species by 4 lines of white scales in the shape of a lyre on the dorsal side of the thorax.

The following images serve to compare the thorax of Aedes aegypti (four lines in the shape of a lyre) with that of Aedes albopictus (a single white line on the thorax).

The behavior of the yellow fever mosquito is similar to that of the tiger mosquito

Izquierda: Ae.aegypti. Derecha: Ae.albopictus. Autor: Vincent Robert (CC BY 2.0)

Thoraxes of Aedes aegypti (left) and Aedes albopictus (right). Credit: incent Robert (CC BY 2.0)

The yellow fever mosquito generally bites during the day but may also bite at night. It has a high preference for people, even greater than the tiger mosquito, but it can also bite other mammals, usually domestic animals. Like other mosquitos, only the females bite, needing blood to develop eggs.

Its period of activity depends on location. For instance, in subtropical areas it is active during most of the year. In (mainland) Spain it is not known what its period of activity would be since no populations have been detected

Originally, the yellow fever mosquito (Aedes aegypti) lived in forested environments and used holes in trees with accumulated rainwater to breed. Just like its cousin the tiger mosquito, over the years it has adapted to urban areas and breeds in any microenvironment with stagnant water such as water drains, containers, or tires.

It is a vector of diseases

The yellow fever mosquito (Aedes aegypti) can transmit diseases between people or between animals and people, for this reason it is called a disease “vector.” Most of the diseases transmitted by this mosquito are caused by viruses. The most noteworthy of these are yellow fever, the dengue virus, the chikungunya virus, and the zika virus.

Where is Aedes aegypti found?

A species of African origin, its distribution has always been associated with human movement and trade. From Africa, it was introduced into the Americas around the XVI-XVII centuries with the slave trade. The trade of goods from the New World introduced the species into Europe numerous times, becoming established throughout the Mediterranean, and between 1700 and 1850 it caused severe epidemics of yellow fever and dengue, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths.

Distribución del mosquito de la fiebre amarilla (Aedes aegypti). Fuente: ECDC

Distribution of the yellow fever mosquito (Aedes aegypti) in Europe. Source: ECDC

Later, the mosquito somewhat spontaneously disappeared, but in the last 25 years its distribution has again increased due to globalization. It is now found in Africa and tropical or subtropical countries, especially in Northern Brazil and Southeast Asia including India. It is also found in the Southeast United States and in Northern Australia.

Unlike the tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus), the yellow fever mosquito (Aedes aegypti) is not capable of entering into diapause to withstand winter while in the egg phase. This limits its ability to colonize northern temperate areas.

However, it could become established in European regions with a humid subtropical climate (parts of Mediterranean and Black Sea countries) such as the Sochi region (Black Sea coast), where it became established in 2001. In 2005 it also became established on the island of Madeira, where it has already caused a dengue epidemic, becoming a major source of worry for Spain and the Canary Islands. Recently, the Canarian Government has announced the finding of some individuals of yellow fever mosquito at the Fuerteventura island, according to the Entomological Surveillance System actions.


Expansion of the tiger mosquito can only be stopped with greater control measures

10 years after its first detection, the tiger mosquito is already established and expanding along the Spanish Mediterranean coast. A study has revealed the necessity to coordinate urgent control measures on a large scale in order to avoid further public health issues. To this end, public participation has been recognized as a helpful resource for fighting against the invader.


Scientists and Catalonian National Police collaborate to catch tiger mosquito stowaways in private vehicles

The BaixLlobregat Mosquito Control Service is carrying out vehicle searches in coordination with the Mossos de Esquadra (Catalonian National Police) as part of the Mosquito Alert project led by a team from CEAB-CSIC and CREAF. According to 2014 citizen data collected using the app Mosquito Alert, this summer Spanish may have transported as many 800,000 tiger mosquitos in their vehicles.


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Mosquito Alert coordinators