Thursday, May 14, 2020

What's This Bug? The Shaggy-Legged Gallinipper.

Close-up of a Psorophora ciliata - The Shaggy-Legged GallinipperThese days everyone wants to just get out and get on with their summer fun (except for those of us in AZ who are entering our self-imposed, heat-avoiding annual lockdown); but, remember there are hungry creatures out there waiting anxiously for your return. Case in point: The Shaggy-Legged Gallinipper (SLG). If you think this sounds like something you might hear on a show like “Moonshiners”, you aren’t far off. “Gallinipper” is an heirloom Southern term for an exceptionally large insect with a frightening bite. Which this is and it has hairy legs.

Close-up of a Shaggy-Legged Gallinipper mosquito sitting on a finger.So, what is this bug? It's a mosquito (Psorophora ciliata), but not your average skeeter. It’s unusual in many ways. First of all, the SLG is big (as you’ve no doubt deduced) – like 3 to 6 times as big as a typical mosquito. It’s fairly rare and does not appear unless there has been abundant wet weather. It’s also an aggressive carnivorous predator that prefers other mosquitoes as prey, but does not limit itself to them. On the up side, it’s not a vector for disease transmission to humans.

A map showing in gray the areas where the Shaggy-Legged Gallinippers can be found in North America.
SLG Distribution  
The SLG is a mosquito that is hard to miss and hard to forget. At about the size of a quarter, you will see these suckers coming. While their size may be intimidating, they are not the largest mosquito in the world. That honorific belongs to the genus Toxorhynchites and can be found worldwide. Toxorhynchites mosquitoes are huge, but at least they are not bloodsuckers. More on them here.

A flooded meadow with more water in than foreground and more green in the background.Although their territory is expanding as our climate changes, the SLG is primarily found in the Southeastern and Midwestern parts of the US. That being said, they have been reported as far north as Ontario and as far south as Argentina. Even though recent severe hurricanes and flooding have been followed by a rise in the SLG population, these are still uncommon mosquitoes. Everything has to fall into place for them to emerge in numbers, This is due to how they have adapted their lifecycle to respond to flooding events. SLG females have the ability to hold sperm until they find an ideal egg-laying time and location. They then fertilize the eggs as they are being laid and create an egg bank (which can contain a million eggs) for future hatching. For an SLG mom the perfect spot is not in standing water like many mosquitoes, it is on moist and low-lying ground that will likely flood at some point. This means they could be in anything from a drainage ditch to a woodland meadow. There the eggs will sit for as long as it takes for water to reach and cover them, then they will hatch. This waiting period can be years-long long, but the eggs are specially adapted to remain viable when dry and can easily overwinter. Once a hurricane or some sustained thunderstorms bring water to them, all these patient eggs will burst out all at once and the race will be on to start the next generation.

A close up of the head of the Shaggy-Legged Gallinipper Mosquito.
A female with her syringe-like proboscis
 Due to the transient nature of the pools from which the SLG emerges, these mosquitoes have a short eggs-to-adults period at just over a week. The adults then only live for a couple of weeks. Both of these are factors in why they grow so large and ferocious. They first grow big in their larval stage when they are eager carnivores, dining on other mosquito larvae and other aquatic invertebrates, and size matters when it comes to the ability to capture and consume prey. Likewise, being bigger and stronger for their short lives means that they can produce more eggs or sperm and do not need to feed to bulk up. Females may only need one full blood meal to get the nutrition she needs, which reduces the likelihood that she will seek out a human to bite and also puts her out of the disease-transmission game. However, by all accounts, you don’t want to get bit even once by one of these. It has been reported that their bite feels like a stabbing and is strong enough to go through two layers of cotton.

A black and white cartoon of people reading a large screen that says>< "Giant Mosquitoes Advancing On City"Here at ARBICO, we have some fabulous mosquito control options to arm yourself with before heading out there this summer. However, if you live in certain areas that are prone to flooding and/or hurricanes and still hope to be out enjoying nature in the coming months, be aware that you may get nailed by a large and strong lady mosquito. But, she’ll probably only bite once. Of course, she has billions of sisters that she hangs out with, so……

Submitted by Pam

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