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Reference Desk March 2013

Giant Mosquitoes Likely To Infest Florida This Summer

    March 11, 2013 — Giant mosquitoes, the size of quarters, are likely to infest Florida this summer, according to experts from the University of Florida.

    These huge, biting insects, which are called Psorophora ciliata, or more commonly known as gallinippers, invaded the state last year and, according to entomologist Phil Kaufman, there may be another invasion on the way.

    "I wouldn't be surprised, given the numbers we saw last year," said Kaufman, an associate professor with UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. "When we hit the rainy cycle we may see that again."

    Female gallinippers lay their eggs in soil at the borders of water bodies that overflow after heavy rain, such as ponds and streams. Therefore, they are referred to as floodwater mosquitoes.

    The eggs can stay dry and inactive for a long time, even years, until waters are high enough to help them hatch.

    Florida was hit by Tropical Storm Debbie last june, which resulted in flooding in several areas and the release of great numbers of gallinippers and other floodwater mosquitoes.

    The mosquito is native to the whole Eastern side of North America and its body is approximately half an inch long with a black-and-white color pattern, making it look like a super-sized form of the invasive Asian tiger mosquito.

    Just like all other biting mosquitoes, the female gallinippers feed on blood and the males feed on flower nectar.

    The species is well-known for being aggressive and having a painful bite. "The bite really hurts, I can attest to that," Kaufman said. The pain has been described as similar to being stabbed.

    According to the scientists: "Even in the larval stage, gallinippers are fearsome. Most mosquito larvae are content to subsist on decaying plant matter floating in the waters where they develop, but gallinippers are omnivorous, devouring other mosquito larvae and even tadpoles."

    Knowing gallinippers possess that trait, they may be a good option for biological control efforts by using the larvae to decrease populations of other pest mosquitoes.

    Unfortunately, that strategy has a deadly flaw - it results in more gallinippers, explained UF/IFAS entomology graduate student Ephraim Ragasa.

    "That kind of defeats the purpose of using them for biocontrol," he added.

    Repellents consisting of DEET can be used to fend off Gallinippers, however, Kaufman believes that because of their huge size, they might be able to endure the compound more than smaller biting mosquitoes.

    Recent research in PLOS ONE indicated that DEET is becoming less effective and mosquitoes are now able to ignore the scent three hours after being exposed to it.

    Other ways to avoid these mosquitoes include dressing in long pants and long-sleeved shirts when going into wooded areas, particularly places where standing water gathers after rainfall.

    There are, however, a couple of positive things about this insect:

    • It is not seen as a notable vector of mosquito-borne diseases impacting humans or animals.
    • Human activity does not appear to increase its populations.

    Kaufman explained: "This isn't one where you build a subdivision and start to see more. If anything, there may be fewer of them now than there were in the past."

    Source: Medical News Today

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