If you read some recent internet headlines, you might believe that giant mosquitoes the size of a quarter are beginning to invade central Florida. It’s not entirely untrue. Recently officials are warning residents to beware of the ‘notoriously aggressive’ bloodsuckers.
Entomologists at the University of Florida predicted the massive insects, known as gallinippers, would descend on the sunshine state in record numbers this year after drenching rains from Tropical Storm Debbie. Now the mammoth monsters have arrived, being spotted in Seminole County.
The supermosquitoes, native to the eastern half of the United States, are 20 times the size of an ordinary mosquito and their bite is unusually painful.
“One of the most ferocious insects you’ve ever heard of — it’s the size of a quarter and its painful bite has been compared to being knifed — is set to invade Florida this summer,” says another recent story on Livescience.com.
Such dispatches are a bit overblown, said Phil Kaufman, an entomologist with the University of Florida who studies six-leggers of all types.
“Don’t believe everything you read,” Kaufman said. “There is a lot of misinformation out there. These are normal mosquitoes that show up every year; some parts of the state may experience higher than normal numbers.”
It’s true, he said, that after Debby the gallinippers, known in scientific circles as Psorophora ciliate, flourished and, looking to the future, laid plenty of eggs to repopulate this summer.
But it will take a lot of rain, like from a tropical storm or hurricane, to spark a gallinipper super invasion. Females typically lay eggs in the dirt near the shores of ponds that overflow when heavy rains come.
They are not particularly aggressive, he said, and they typically do not carry diseases.
“But they bite as they encounter you. The bite is painful because it’s bigger. The itching afterward is no different than any other mosquito. They are annoying, but that’s about it.”
Hillsborough County Mosquito Control Director Carlos Fernandes laughed when told about news reports of a gallinipper invasion. Those rumors surface every year, he said, “like the one with the Africanized bees.”
“It’s the same thing with the gallinippers,” Fernandes said.
The breed is a “very boring mosquito,” he said. “The only thing that catches people’s attention is how big it is.”
A common mosquito can land on you and you won’t feel it until it’s too late to swat and the proboscis is already plunged into your skin drawing blood.
In that respect, the size of the gallinippers works against them, Fernandes said, when they try to feast on humans.
“When it lands on you, you feel it,” he said.
“It’s the difference between a Volkswagen Jetta hitting you and a Mack truck.”