As if residents of the Sunshine State didn’t have enough to worry about, they should now be preparing themselves for a possible statewide infestation of supermosquitoes, according to University of Florida entomologists.
Psorophora ciliata, commonly known as gallinippers, can grow up to 20 times the size of an average mosquito. They lay their eggs at the edges of flood-prone areas, where they can lay dormant for years until the eggs are saturated by heavy rains. Entomologists expect that a large crop of these mosquitoes could hatch this summer, given enough rainfall.
“I wouldn’t be surprised, given the numbers we saw last year” when Tropical Storm Debbie inundated the area, said Phil Kaufman, an entomologist at the University.
The creatures have been known (and despised) since at least 1897, when author David Flanery described them in the journal Nature as “the little zebra-legged thing – the shyest, slyest, meanest and most venomous of them all.”
Psorophora ciliata is native to the entire eastern half of North America. The males have bottlebrush-like feathery antennae, and feed on flower nectar.
It is the female of the species, however, that people will have to look out for. The female gallinipper feeds on blood both night and day, and can bite clean through clothing. Some describe the bite as like being stabbed, or having a hot nail driven into your skin. “The bite really hurts, I can attest to that,” said Kaufman.
To help Florida residents understand and prepare for a possible influx this summer, Kaufman and his colleagues have produced an informative document, downloadable here from the University of Florida website.
The one upshot of a possible invasion of gallinippers is that the insects, when at the larval stage, are so predatory that they devour other mosquito larvae and even tadpoles. They are also not considered to be disease carrying. The possible use of them to control populations of other pests has been ruled out as it would result in more of the over-size bloodsucking creatures. And nobody really wants that.