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Common Sense: Beware, the lowly gallinipper's bite

March 15, 2013

By Brent Davis

Spring break will soon be upon us. Schools will empty and many homes will do the same as the annual trek to warmer climates takes place. A popular destination for Saline Countians is Florida. The surf. The sand. The sun. Paradise.
Or is it?
This year, travelers may encounter what is described as an aggressive mosquito. The scientific name for this so-called monster is Psorophora ciliata, but often goes by the name "gallinippers."
How could an insect with such an odd name be feared by so many people? A report issued by the University of Florida puts it best. "If mosquitos were motorcycles, this species would be a Harley Davidson - big, bold, American-made and likely to be abundant in Florida this summer." Fortunately for spring breakers, the gallinippers proliferate during the rainy season.
However, those who travel to Florida later in the summer should be aware.
The report states, the gallinipper is a floodwater mosquito, with females laying eggs in soil at the edges of ponds, streams and other bodies of water that overflow when heavy rains come. Last June, Tropical Storm Debbie caused flooding in many parts of Florida and unleashed large number of gallinippers, along with other floodwater mosquitos. As with other biting mosquitos, only the female gallinippers are blood feeders; males survive on flower nectar. The species is notoriously aggressive and has a painful bite.
The good news doesn't stop there. Apparently, the gallinipper larvae are big eaters. Most mosquito larvae are content to feed on decaying plant matter floating in the water. The gallinipper larvae are not so picky. Not only will they eat plant matter, they will also eat other mosquito larvae and tadpoles.
Here is where it gets interesting. Florida already had a mosquito problem and figuring out how to deal with it was perplexing. Then, a light bulb went off over the head of some well meaning individual. "Hey, I know what we can do. Let's use the gallinipper larvae to eat all the other mosquito larvae!"
Fortunately, the folly of this solution was easily seen by University of Florida entomologist Phil Kaufman. "That kind of defeats the purpose of using them for biocontrol."
There is good news on the horizon regarding the gallinipper. It isn't considered a carrier of mosquito-borne illness affecting humans or animals. Also, unlike other mosquitos, human activity doesn't seem to boost its populations.
So, as you pack up to enjoy the sun and sand of Florida, be sure to include sunscreen, big hats and lots of DEET.

Brent Davis is editor of The Saline Courier. He can be reached at bdavis@bentoncourier.com

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