University of Florida entomologist Phil Kaufman says last year the state had a bumper crop of Psorophora ciliata: huge, biting insects, which are sometimes called gallinippers. He said there may be a repeat on the way.
“I wouldn’t be surprised, given the numbers we saw last year,” said Kaufman, a UF/IFAS associate professor. “When we hit the rainy cycle we may see that again.”
The gallinipper is a floodwater mosquito, with females laying eggs in soil at the edges of ponds, streams and other water bodies that overflow when heavy rains come. The eggs can remain dry and dormant for years, until high waters cause them to hatch, Kaufman said.
Last June, Tropical Storm Debby caused flooding in many parts of Florida and unleashed large numbers of gallinippers, along with other floodwater mosquitoes.
Native to the entire Eastern half of North America, the insect has a body about half an inch long, with a black-and-white color pattern that makes it resemble a super-sized version of the invasive Asian tiger mosquito.
As with other biting mosquitoes, only the female gallinippers are blood feeders; males survive on flower nectar. The species is notoriously aggressive and has a painful bite. “The bite really hurts, I can attest to that,” Kaufman said.
Even in the larval stage, gallinippers are fearsome. Most mosquito larvae are content to subsist on decaying plant matter floating in the waters where they develop, but gallinippers are omnivorous, devouring other mosquito larvae and even tadpoles. With that trait in mind, observers have suggested the gallinipper might be a good candidate for biological control efforts, using the larvae to reduce populations of other pest mosquitoes. But that strategy has a fatal flaw – it results in more gallinippers.
Gallinippers can be warded off with repellents containing DEET, though Kaufman said that due to their large size they may be more tolerant of the compound than smaller biting mosquitoes.
It isn’t considered a significant vector of mosquito-borne illness affecting people or animals.
To help understand the species better, Kaufman and UF/IFAS entomology graduate student Ephraim Ragasa created a document on gallinippers, which is now available at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in967.