Media reports warned of a giant mosquito poised to invade Florida in the summer of 2013. This mosquito, known as a “gallinipper” or Psorophora ciliata, is a large species of mosquito which flourishes after floods and rainy seasons, and is native to much of the Eastern U.S.
Gallinippers gained media attention in Florida after Tropical Storm Debby back in 2012. In March 2013 – after a rainy season and mild winter – experts warned that this summer could see an even larger influx of the giant mosquito. Some Florida counties began spraying near storm drains and swamp lands in preparation for their arrival.
Gallinippers are not a new species, as the Psorophora ciliata was identified by Johan Christian Fabricius in 1794. The informal name “gallinipper” was coined by writer David Flanery back in 1897, with the following description:
…it was the bite of the fierce gallinipper of the swamps, which stings through a flannel shirt, or the little zebra-legged thing-the shyest, slyest, meanest and most venomous of them all-which invades the heart of the city, away from the foliage, the common haunts of the other varieties.
Anthony Pelaez of Tampa’s Museum of Science told Fox Orlando, “It’s about 20 times bigger than the sort of typical, Florida mosquito that you find. And it’s mean, and it goes after people, and it bites, and it hurts.”
Female Gallinippers lay their eggs in moist areas that are likely to flood. These eggs can lay dormant for years until the flood waters arrive. After a heavy rainy season and a mild winter, this summer is expected to see an influx of gallinippers in Florida.
Gallinippers don’t typically carry serious diseases and primarily feed on mammals such as livestock and people, but have also been known to attack fish. Standard disease-bearing mosquitoes also feed on birds.
Unlike regular mosquitoes, which are crepuscular – meaning they feed at dawn or dusk – gallinippers also bite during the daytime. They’re known to be aggressive and can even bite through clothing. Due to their massive size, repellent may not be as effective as it is on their smaller counterparts. The bite of a gallinipper has been compared to being poked with a knife.
These giants prefer inland areas, as they are not strong flyers and don’t maneuver as well in breezy coastal areas.
The larvae of gallinippers feed on other insects, including other mosquito larvae, so their flourish in 2013 may have a small impact on the regular mosquito population. Years ago it was suggested that gallinipper larvae could be used as a control agent against disease-bearing mosquitoes, but their aggressive nature was not deemed a worthy trade-off.
In response to the expected gallinipper influx, residents are encouraged to cover up and wear repellent with DEET.
- Gallinippers! Monster mosquitoes poised to strike Florida (Marc Lallanilla, Science on NBC News: March 9, 2013)
- Monster mosquitoes 20 TIMES the size of a normal bug invade central Florida after heavy rains (Daily Mail: June 9, 2013)
- A mosquito Psorophora ciliata (Fabricius) (Insecta: Diptera: Culicidae) (Ragasa & Kaufman: University of Florida, Gainesville)