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Attack of the Shaggy Legged Gallinippers

July 20, 2012

Mosquitoes suck – literally.

I can’t even count the number of welts on my poor pups right now. The mosquitoes are just carrying them away. Advantage, Skin-So-Soft – nothing seems to be fending off these devilish creatures.

But why are they so different this year? And why are there so many?

DPI Entomologist Dr. Gary Steck said that this year was literally “a perfect storm” for mosquitoes. What conditions create this perfect storm?

“Who knows?” Steck said. “I’m sure the rains of Tropical Storm Debby and the mild winter had something to do with it.”

The mosquitoes in my backyard have been the size of small birds. When I asked him about the irregular size of the insects, Steck said that they are bigger because they are a different type of mosquito than we are used to seeing. He said that these unusually large mosquitoes are called Shaggy Legged Gallinippers. These mosquitoes are relatively aggressive day biters – hence the multitude of welts all over everyone.

Well if you ask me (or my nephew – who wants nothing more than to just play outside without getting sprayed down with “that smelly stuff”), mosquitoes are worthless. They are just a nuisance to all mankind. However, we are wrong (as much as I hate to admit it).

Mosquitoes serve as filter feeders in aquatic communities, and they are a food source to many aquatic and terrestrial species. No matter how annoying, they are an essential component of our delicately balanced ecosystem.

That being said – these biters (who actually sting, not bite) are on population overload here in Florida. My next (& most important) question for Steck, was about how to control them. According to UF-IFAS, using things like sound, bug zappers, bats, and eating certain food like garlic and onions, are basically old wives’ tales. There is no proven research that identifies these items as effective methods of mosquito control. In fact, Florida Fish & Wildlife says that bug zappers actually kill more beneficial insects than mosquitoes.

There are ways to minimize mosquito populations around your home. Drain and cover is a general practice to follow when trying to protect yourself and your home from mosquitoes. You can also try using foggers. My solution: stay inside, especially during dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most mobile. You can never be too careful as mosquitoes may spread several viruses such as dengue fever (which has not been documented north of the Florida Keys), West Nile virus, and several strains of encephalitis. In fact, Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) was recently detected right here in Alachua County, which can be fatal to humans.

EEE was detected in a sentinel chicken – county mosquito control agencies and the Florida Department of Health (DOH) use sentinel chickens to monitor mosquito-spread diseases. You can find regularly updated Arbovirus Surveillance reports here.  

For more information about this and other pest alerts, visit DPI’s website or http://entomology.ifas.ufl.edu/pestalert/.

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