Fact check: Video shows aphid, not genetically modified mosquito stamped with number
The claim: Video shows genetically modified mosquito stamped with number
A March 19 Instagram video (direct link, archive link) shows an insect with distinct black markings resting on a person's finger.
"Since when do mosquitos have (numbers) stamped on them?" reads on-screen text in the video.
The caption reads, "BILL GATES is to blame for releasing millions of GMO mosquitoes into the public. The more you know."
The video was liked more than 6,000 times in two days.
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Our rating: False
The insect in the video is not a mosquito, according to multiple experts. And the markings on the insect's body are natural, not stamped numbers.
Insect in video is not mosquito, experts say
The insect in the video appears to be a type of aphid, not a mosquito, Lyle Buss, manager of the University of Florida's insect identification lab, told USA TODAY.
"The insect does have two pairs of wings, which rules out all Diptera," Buss said, referring to the scientific order of insects with a single pair of wings, including mosquitoes.
The insect's wings match the shape of aphid wings, he said, and the long legs, long antennae and body shape also support the same conclusion.
Patrick Liesch, director of the University of Wisconsin's insect diagnostic lab, agreed the insect in the video didn't appear to be a mosquito but rather a variety of aphid.
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"There are over 5,000 species of aphids known worldwide," Liesch said. "While each aphid species can vary in their appearance,there are certain species that bear a strong resemblance to the insect in this video clip."
The black marks on the insect's body are completely natural, Buss said.
Some aphids have distinct dark markings that, in some instances, can resemble numbers, Liesch said.
"Such color patterns occur naturally, although humans can easily misinterpret them and assign specific meaning to them," he said.
Genetically modified mosquitoes exist
The video doesn't show a genetically modified mosquito, but they do exist. They're mass-produced in labs to control mosquito populations and prevent outbreaks of disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
They're not stamped with numbers but are made to be distinguishable through a fluorescent marker gene that glows under a special light, allowing researchers to identify them in the wild.
The CDC says use of genetically modified mosquitoes has been successful in parts of Brazil, the Cayman Islands, Panama and India at controlling a species of mosquito that spreads certain diseases. Since 2019, more than 1 billion such mosquitoes have been released.
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The Environmental Protection Agency evaluated the potential risks of releasing genetically modified mosquitoes into communities and determined there was no risk to people, animals or the environment.
In 2022, the EPA cleared the release of more than 2.4 billion genetically modified mosquitoes in California and Florida, a step meant to reduce the population of mosquitoes that carry diseases such as Zika, yellow fever and dengue.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation helped fund a project to genetically alter mosquitoes, but Bill Gates isn't directly responsible for releasing them, as the post claims.
USA TODAY reached out to the social media user who shared the post for comment.
Lead Stories also debunked the claim.
Our fact-check sources:
Lyle Buss, March 22, Email exchange with USA TODAY
Patrick Liesch, March 22, Email exchange with USA TODAY
University of Wisconsin, accessed March 22, Aphids, in-depth
Smithsonian, accessed March 22, True Flies (Diptera)
BugGuide, accessed March 22, Euceraphis punctipennis
BugGuide, accessed March 22, Calaphis
CDC, accessed March 22, Genetically Modified Mosquitoes
EPA, accessed March 22, Emerging Mosquito Control Technologies
Smithsonian Magazine, March 30, 2022, Why a U.S. Company Plans to Release 2.4 Billion Genetically Modified Mosquitoes
Candid, Sept. 8, 2016, Gates Foundation Awards $35 Million for Mosquito Research
Lead Stories, March 20, Fact Check: Video Does NOT Show Genetically Modified Mosquito With Number Stamped On It
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Video shows aphid, not genetically modified mosquito