Coming this summer: They're big! They're vicious! And they want YOUR BLOOD!
In what sounds like the plot from a 1950s horror flick, scientists at the University of Florida are warning an influx of oversized mosquitoes known as gallinippers (Psorophora ciliata) is expected this summer.
"Big" is in relation to most species of mosquitoes. A gallinipper has a half-inch long body and even longer legs. The "vicious" part is true, again, compared to other mosquitoes.
"Yeah, it's a vicious biter," said Ken Gioeli, natural resources agent for the St. Lucie Cooperative Extension Service, said of the gallinipper. "They can bite right through your clothing and give you a good pinch, more painful than an ordinary mosquito bite."
Doug Carlson, mosquito control director for Indian River County, Fla., has been bitten by gallinippers and said: "I'm not so sure the bite is all that much more painful than other mosquito bites. The gallinippers are so big they're certainly very noticeable. It can feel like a small bird has landed on you."
Gene Lemire, mosquito control manager for Martin County, said gallinippers "are so big they scare people. But ... they tend to be a pasture mosquito, biting mostly cattle and horses and just incidentally biting humans."
And how much of an infestation to expect this summer is up to speculation.
UF entomologist Phil Kaufman said because the state had a bumper crop of gallinippers last summer, a repeat may be on the way this summer.
Lemire isn't so sure.
"There may have been a lot of Psorophora ciliata in other areas of Florida last summer, but that wasn't the case in Martin County. So, if anything, I'm not expecting a big outbreak here this summer."
Female gallinippers lay their eggs in mud or soil at the edges of ponds, streams and other bodies of water that overflow when heavy rains come. The eggs can sit there for a long time, up to several years, if necessary, waiting for enough rain to flood the nests.
"Psorophora ciliata needs a wet/dry, wet/dry cycle to have a big breeding season," Lemire said. "Each female can lay 200 eggs. If you have several cycles of eggs hatching, and then those mosquitoes lay more eggs, you can have a logarithmic increase in numbers."
Nevertheless, Carlson said he's predicting a normal gallinipper season until he sees evidence of an incoming horde.
Facts about gallinippers:
-- They're the largest biting mosquitoes in the United States.
-- The body is about half an inch long with longer hind legs that are hairy and have zebra stripes.
-- They're native to the eastern half of North America.
-- Only the females are blood feeders; the males survive on flower nectar and other sugar sources.
-- The larvae feed on the larvae of their smaller mosquito cousins.
-- They have been found to harbor viruses like the West Nile virus, but don't transfer the virus to people.
-- They can be warded off by repellents containing DEET; but because they can bite through cloth, spray on clothing as well as exposed skin.
-- The red bump and itching caused by any mosquito bite are an allergic reaction to the bug's saliva.
-- The name? According to mosquito control director Carlson: "The story I've heard from folks is that they're called gallinippers because they're so big they can nip a gallon of blood with a single bite."
(Reach Tyler Treadway of the Treasure Coast newspapers in Florida at Tyler.Treadway@scripps.com .)