Boy claims to have solved ’Mount Mauler’ mystery
After using his family as live bait an 11-year-old entomologist claims to have solved the mystery of the "Mount Mauler" which has stalked Tauranga's beaches.
For decades, the nasty little bug has been causing itchy red spots which can lead to painful skin irritations in its victims.
Beachgoers often do not see the effect of the bite until several days have passed.
While the Mount Mauler has never been formally identified, fingers have pointed at many sand-dwelling creatures.
Microscopic jellyfish and an insect larvae are prime suspects but young entomologist Olly Hills believes the flying midge is the culprit.
Olly is no ordinary 11-year-old when it comes to insects having researched them his whole life and having a published book to his name.
On a visit to Tauranga, he heard about the insect bites and had to investigate.
"I went with my sister and mother down and we used ourselves to draw them in and get some photographs of them.
"At first it was thought to be a mite but what I saw was a black biting, winged insect which I managed to photograph."
The family, all of which received bites from the insects they observed, were relieved when he concluded his research.
Olly concluded the creature responsible for the bites is a biting midge. It's common name, fittingly for its elusive nature is, "No-see-um".
"It was originally called styloconops myersi by Tonnoir in 1924, and subsequently revised into the genus leptoconops, changing the name to leptoconops myersi named after the famous entomologist John Myers," says Olly.
"This midge was first identified in Northland, and has been more common in that area, with its range appearing to extend south as temperatures have increased perhaps.
"They are easily identified as being small, black, with milky white wings."
Marine researcher from Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology Dave Guccione says Olly’s theory was plausible.
"If people are being bitten outside of the water then it is likely," he says.
Dave says adding to the confusion of the Mount Mauler is that people might misdiagnose where the bites occur.
"The bites are not usually noticeable until they become aggravated," he says.
"It could be a case where people are bitten on shore then go into the sea which causes the bites to flare up.
"This could explain why people think the creature might be based water-based."
The identification is probably of little comfort to those bitten by the mauler with some horrific photographs of bites shared online.
One beachgoer, who didn't want to be named, told SunLive that she went to the beach to cool down after work.
"I felt like I was being bitten by something, but was too hot to take too much notice.
"A few days later, my legs and arms started coming up in the huge red welts. They were so itchy and annoying. It drove me nuts."
The woman says it took a long time to get rid of the bites.
"I was using all kinds of creams and taking antihistamines."