Giant mosquitoes are overtaking the state of North Carolina in the wake of September’s Hurricane Florence, entomologists say.
"Definitely noticeably bigger. If you see mosquitoes often, then you're going to say, 'Wow, that's a big mosquito,'" said Michael H. Reiskind, an assistant professor in North Carolina State University’s Department of Entomology.
Scientists say that it’s uncommon for this particular species, identified as the gallinipper mosquito, to carry human diseases, although they have been known to transmit heartworm to canines and could lead to infections due to their size.
"That being said, being bitten by a giant mosquito or being bitten hundreds of times by a giant mosquito can be, in and of itself, a public health issue. ... It can be truly disturbing," Reiskind said, adding that due to its larger proboscis, or mouth, the bite is likely to be more painful and can pierce skin through two layers of clothing.
With a wingspan of 10 millimeters — twice the size of the common North American mosquitoes — the Psorophora ciliata (gallinippers) are among the largest mosquito species.
"In general, they're pretty rare, I would say, under normal circumstances. But when you get hurricanes, you get such a large boom in the population from the flood that suddenly, everybody notices them," the entomologist said, adding that the penny-sized insect could be identified by its zebra-striped legs.
Reiskind said that due to the low numbers, the species has never been properly studied and though they generally nest in flooded or marshy areas, they can survive under drier conditions as well.
“It's not important till something happens, and then suddenly, it's like, 'We need to know this stuff!' If Hurricane Michael hits us again really hard, I don't know what that is going to do," Reiskind said.
An environmental and health specialist Tom Turturro, said, “They’re just everywhere.”
Turturro said described the bites, saying, “It’s like somebody shoving a hot poker in your arm. It burns like hell.”
Over 25 counties have reported a rise in gallinipper sightings, triggering a US$4 million relief fund from state Governor Roy Cooper to deploy trucks and aircraft to spray pesticides.