Young mosquitoes who eat even small pieces of plastic could be contaminating other insects and mammals, according to new research.
Authors of a paper – published in The Royal Society journal Biology Letters on Wednesday – found that when a mosquito larva eats microplastic, that plastic can remain in the insect's body into adulthood. So, the microplastic could then be transferred to whatever might eat that mosquito, including birds.
The U.K. researchers conducted their study in a lab, but they say it's not a stretch to think that plastic could move up the food chain in this way.
"The implication is that you can have plastics at the bottom of the pond that are now going up into the air and being eaten by spiders and bats and animals that normally wouldn't have access to that plastic," author Amanda Callaghan at England's University of Reading told the Independent.
The microplastics used in the study were small latex beads, and authors noted smaller beads transferred more easily than larger beads into the mosquito's adult stage.
"Our study was a proof of concept in the laboratory," Callaghan told USA TODAY. "One of the next steps will be to sample lakes with plastics and mosquitoes to measure this."
Microplastic is common in waterways worldwide. Even arctic ice is choked with a record amount of the pollutant.
In an effort to reduce microplastics, some countries including areas of the U.S. and the U.K., have banned microbeads found in toothpastes, face scrubs and shower gels.
More from USA Today:
That bottled water you paid $3 for may contain tiny particles of plastic: Study
Even one piece of plastic can kill a sea turtle, study finds
6 things you can do to stop plastic pollution today