09 August 2013

Mosquito Watch

Welcome back. It’s summer and it’s Wisconsin, so I’m swatting mosquitoes. It was a rainy spring, but that’s irrelevant. I’m the new state resident, new blood; the whole gang’s here to welcome me.

Contrary to local opinion, the American
Robin, not the mosquito, is Wisconsin’s
state bird.(photo on multiple websites)
In an earlier blog post (Where to Retire--Climate), I mentioned that Wisconsin graciously hosts 50 species of mosquitoes. Not knowing any better, I swatted each equally. But after reading about Florida’s invasion of “monster mosquitoes,” I’m on the lookout for one species in particular. The Psorophora ciliata mosquitoes are reportedly humongous!

Shaggy Legged Gallinippers

The Entomological Society of America has not approved “gallinippers,” much less “shaggy legged gallinippers” as an official common name for the Psorophora ciliata mosquito, yet the names are often used in folk tale and song and by those harassed and bitten.

The mosquito is indeed large, though contrary to media reports, it may not feel quite like a small bird when it lands on you. Wingspan tops out about a quarter of an inch, the body is about half an inch and the legs are longer. Coin-size comparisons range from a dime to a quarter.
The gallinipper mosquito. (photo from Detroit, Michigan’s Huron-Clinton Metroparks, http://www.metroparks.com/blog.aspx?ID=2#)
Since there are other equally big or bigger mosquitoes with less effective press agents, you need to look closely to be sure it’s a gallinipper. You should notice a band of yellow scales on the proboscis (the part that’s sticking into you) and thorax (segment between the head and abdomen) and shaggy dark scales on the hind legs.

Gallinippers are aggressive. The females feed primarily on a variety of mammals, not just us. A Michigan farmer reported bites that were much worse than his run of the mill mosquitoes--a typical complaint; but he added that bites were coming through cotton canvas shorts.

Over the years, the big bugs have tested positive for several nasty viruses, yet all studies to date have shown that they don’t share them. They’re big, they bite, but they’re not dangerous. In fact, in their larval stage, they chow down on other mosquito larvae.

Florida Gallinipper Invasion

Florida is constantly invaded by lots of things--Giant African Snails (see my Snail Power post), pythons, retirees who drive worse than I do. Although gallinippers got the sirens wailing this year, they’re not invaders; they’re permanent residents. They’re found from Argentina to Canada, and in the US, east of the Continental Divide.

So who’s shouting Monster? Somehow it just grew. The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences updated an extension publication on the gallinipper in anticipation of a copious supply following the tropical storms. The institute’s news release on the publication ran with it, and…would you believe?...the release was embellished by the media.

Wrap Up

I wasn’t surprised to learn that Florida won’t be invaded by monster mosquitoes. I knew that many of the gallinippers would be traveling to spend their summer with relatives here in Wisconsin.

In 1956, a Wisconsin Academy review, Pest Mosquitoes in Wisconsin, included the “huge but harmless” Psorophora ciliata among the state’s “36 species.” Only 36? Yes, and as I wrote, the population is now 50 species.

Thanks for stopping by.

P.S.

- Example media article on gallinipper:
newsfeed.time.com/2013/06/10/monster-mosquitoes-emerge-in-central-florida/
- University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences news release: news.ifas.ufl.edu/2013/03/huge-aggressive-mosquito-may-be-abundant-in-florida-this-summer-ufifas-expert-warns/
- University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension publication: edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in967
- Wisconsin Academy Review (1956), Pest Mosquitoes in Wisconsin:
digicoll.library.wisc.edu/cgi-bin/WI/WI-idx?type=div&did=WI.v3i4.RJDicke&isize=text

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