An Unexpected Threat From Hurricane Florence: North Carolina’s “Mega-Mosquitoes”

Photo: Entomologist Phil Kaufman shows size comparison between an average-sized mosquito and an American Gallinipper Mosquito. (University of Florida) Credit: Marisol Amador/UF/IFAS

 

BY ELIZA JACKSON-WALD

Hurricanes Florence and Michael demolished North Carolina’s coast—from torrential rains to catastrophic flooding to wind gusts reaching ninety miles per hour. As the southeast is recovering from these monster storms, another complication has surfaced: mosquitoes. Once the clouds shifted and the rain stopped, puddles in coastal regions remained. As this water grew increasingly stagnant, it became the ideal breeding grounds for an aggressive species of mosquito: the American Gallinipper. At almost three times the size of an average mosquito, this mosquito is a particular nuisance; it can inflict a painful bite that penetrates multiple layers of clothing. However, unlike many mosquitoes, these Gallinippers do not transmit deadly diseases like West Nile Virus, Malaria, or Zika.

Gallinipper Mosquitoes are floodwater mosquitoes; the female lays eggs at the edges of bodies of water that are likely to flood in heavy rains. These mosquitoes are especially unique because their eggs can lie dry many years until, after heavy rains, they finally hatch adults. With Hurricane Florence’s widespread flooding, billions of dormant mosquito eggs were hatched at once, posing a threat to the Carolinas in the form of half-inch long “mega-mosquitoes.” Governor Roy Cooper has already allocated $4 million for mosquito control in twenty-seven coastal North Carolina counties and others affected by flooding. As of yet these mosquitoes have not posed a threat to the Triangle area, but if they continue to breed, they may assume the cardinal’s position as North Carolina’s state bird.

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