By Ariel Schwartz
They take a gallon of blood with every bite. They're immune to insect repellent. These are just some of the incorrect rumors spreading about Psorophora ciliata (you can call it the gallinipper), a mosquito that's up to 20 times bigger than average mosquitoes (though that's still only about half an inch long). The massive mosquito, native to the eastern two-thirds of the U.S., is expected to hit Florida particularly hard this year. The reason: storms.
"The [Psorophora ciliata] here in Florida we typically only see when we have these large storm systems come and drop many inches of rain in a short period of time," explains University of Florida entomologist Phil Kaufman. "It's the low-lying areas that fill up with temporary rainwater--that's where they develop."
Normally, when Florida gets an inch or two of rain, the water soaks into the ground in a couple days--the mosquitoes don't have time to develop to a mature stage. But when a tropical storm or hurricane drops 10 inches of rain, the water sits for at least a week, giving the enormous mosquitoes ample time to grow their giant, bloodsucking bodies. And the mosquitoes are more than happy to lay eggs in dry low-lying areas, just waiting for the rain to fall before they rise up to attack.
That's what happened last summer, when tropical storm Debbie dumped rain on areas that hadn't been flooded in a long time. Suddenly, mosquitoes emerged that had been sitting dry in the soil. This summer may be more of the same. Nonetheless, most Floridians will never encounter a gallinipper; they're most prevalent in rural areas that aren't part of mosquito control districts.
And if you do come across a gallinipper? Don't panic. But, to help you panic, know this: It has an unexpectedly painful bite, and while it won't suck you dry, it will take more blood compared to smaller mosquitoes.
The mosquitoes don't just appear in Florida. "I would expect anywhere in the southeastern U.S. that it would be very common. The difference in Florida is that water drains really fast here, as evidenced by sinkholes," says Kaufman. "It may not take something like a tropical storm to have [an infestation] occur in Western parts of the Atlantic states."
Copyright 2013 by Fast Company. Reprinted with permission.