Mosquitoes and other insects are spreading tiny fragments of plastics from the air, polluting the environment, and entering the food chain.
The Microplastic Problem
Several previous studies found microplastics are what scientists call small pieces of plastics, less than 5 millimeters long, that are increasingly becoming a major problem. They are found in the seas and oceans where underwater creatures accidentally swallow them. Often, microplastics are found in the food and water.
The microplastic problem continues on land. According to a study that was published in the journal of The Royal Society, these tiny nuisances are entering the food chain by way of insects, particularly mosquitoes.
Researchers from the University of Reading observed mosquitoes from birth to death in a laboratory. They introduced fluorescent polystyrene beads to track whether the microplastics consumed by the larva will stick inside the insect until it reaches adulthood.
That is exactly what Professor Amanda Callaghan, a biological scientist and lead author of the study, has found.
How Mosquitoes, Other Flying Insects Can Spread Microplastics
Mosquito larva ingests microscopic plastic shards that continue to be in the insect's body until it reaches its adult form. From then on, its predators such as birds and bats eat the mosquito and accidentally also ingest the microplastic.
"This is eye-opening research, which has shown us for the first time that microplastics are able to navigate several life stages in flying insects, allowing them to contaminate all kinds of living creatures who would not normally be exposed to them," explained Callaghan. "It is a shocking reality that plastic is contaminating almost every corner of the environment and its ecosystems."
While the study was focused on mosquitoes, the researchers said that the discovery could also be true to other similar flying insects. They could also be ingesting microplastics that get retained until the end of their life cycles.
"They are going to be full of insects that will eat them," added Callaghan. "There's no doubt this is going to happen in the wild."
A previous study has found that mayfly and caddisfly larvae in Wales also ingested microplastics.
Further research is needed to find out exactly how microplastic is disrupting the eco-system. Matt Shardlow, an executive from a conservation charity and not involved in the study, said that researchers should look into the role that microplastics might be playing in the decline of aquatic life.
Microbeads, a type of microplastic, in cosmetics are already being banned in several places around the world including the United States.