It’s big and aggressive, and it’s here
South Floridians have certainly had their fair share of mosquito news in recent years. With headlines screaming Zika and spray zones, many locals could probably teach an in-service on Aedes aegypti, the tiny pest identified as the primary vector for carrying and spreading Zika.
There’s a very good possibility, though, that many residents either forgot or completely missed the headlines that Florida was being invaded by gallinippers, one of the largest mosquitos in the United States.
Central Florida was ground zero for the gallinipper invasion
Gallinippers, scientifically known as Psorophora ciliata, have been around for a very long time. According to entomologists, they’re rather boring – except for their size, the viciousness of their bite, and the possibility of a super invasion.
That was the case until 2013, when scientists and journalists warned of an impending invasion of giant mosquitos in Central Florida, the result of flooding rains unleashed by tropical storms Debby and Andrea. Mosquito-nado, it seemed, was going to descend on the state.
Gallinippers are a big bug with a big bite
The hysteria, though, was not without merit. Gallinippers are an aggressive species, with the females feeding both day and night. Because of its size – roughly the size of a quarter – the mosquito has been known to deliver a stab-like bite, even through layers of clothing.
Gallinippers have always been in Florida. In fact, they have a range that stretches up the east coast to Ontario, Canada, and as far west as Texas. Since P. ciliata is a floodwater mosquito, South Florida – on the verge of rainy season – needs to pay attention.
The life cycle of the gallinipper
P. ciliata lays its eggs at the edges of streams, ponds, and areas that flood in heavy rain, such as swales. Once deposited in the muddy soil, eggs can remain dormant for a dry South Florida winter or for years to come.
Just add water, such as a week or two of standing water, and the eggs are revived, able to proceed to the larvae stage. It’s during this stage that the mosquito’s aggressive tendencies are first evident. Using its mouth to hold and grasp, gallinipper larvae feed on the larvae of other mosquitoes, as well as tadpoles. They mature into adults in six days.
The good news about gallinippers
The size of P. ciliata is often the easiest way to identify it. Additional markers to aid in identification include yellow scales on its thorax (middle section), a yellow band on its proboscis (mouth), and shaggy or feathery scales in a striped pattern on its hind legs.
Despite its intimidating size and painful bite, there is a bit of good news. Gallinippers, according to the University of Florida, have not been shown to be a bridge in spreading viruses between animals and humans.
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