London underground source of new insect forms
- To: Ban-GEF@lists.txinfinet.com, GENTECH@ping.de
- Subject: London underground source of new insect forms
- From: MichaelP <papadop@PEAK.ORG>
- Date: Wed, 26 Aug 1998 06:51:16 -0700 (PDT)
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London Times August 26 1998
A NEW species of mosquito is evolving on the London Underground in a
development that has astonished scientists.
The insects are believed to be the descendants of mosquitoes which
colonised the tunnels a hundred years ago when the Tube was being dug.
When they went below ground they were bird-biting pests. But over a
century, deprived of their normal diet, the mosquitoes have evolved
new feeding behaviour, dining on mammals including rats and mice - and
human beings. They now plague maintenance workers.
Kate Byne and Richard Nichols of Queen Mary and Westfield College in
London have carried out tests to see if the Tube's mosquitoes, which
have been named molestus, are now different from Culex pipiens, the
bird-biting species which entered the Underground last century.
To their amazement they found that it was almost impossible to mate
those living above ground with those in the subterranean world,
indicating that the genetic differences are now so great that the ones
underground are well on their way to becoming a separate species.
This usually happens only when species are isolated for thousands
rather than tens of years.
The team, whose findings are reported in BBC Wildlife magazine today,
have also found genetic differences between mosquitoes on different
Tube lines. They believe this is due to the draughts dispersing the
insects along but not between lines.
During the Second World War the insects attacked Londoners sheltering
from Hitler's bombs.
Roz Kidman Cox, the magazine editor, said: "It's a remarkable story of
evolution. The scientists say that the differences between the above
and below-ground forms are as great as if the species had been
separated for thousands of years."
The conditions on the Underground are probably ideal for mosquitoes to
breed rapidly and frequently throughout the year. Temperatures can be
balmy and the network is prone to penetration by water creating pools
of stagnant water for breeding.
There are more than 1,600 varieties of mosquitoes which live from the
Arctic tundra to the tropical rain forests.
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