Clouds of aggressive nickel-sized mosquitoes called gallinippers have descended on 27 counties in North Carolina, the result of untold numbers of the insect’s eggs being activated by the catastrophic flooding caused by hurricane Florence. Unlike most mosquitoes, Gallinippers can lay their eggs in dry conditions, of which can lay dormant for months or years, and hatch when wet conditions develop. The females can be particularly aggressive, mobbing large mammals such as humans or even cattle in order to feed.
The good news is that this particular species isn’t known to carry human diseases such as West Nile virus; the bad news is that Psorophora ciliata is no ordinary bloodsucker, with serrated maxillae at the end of their proboscis big enough to trigger pain receptors in humans. "It’s like somebody shoving a hot poker in your arm," says Tom Turturro, an environmental health program specialist with NC’s Cumberland County. "It burns like hell." Unlike most mosquitoes that bite humans, gallinippers are one very few species that can pierce the hides of cattle.
North Carolina governor Roy Cooper has ordered $4 million in relief funds to fight the vampiric plague, a war that might become more difficult as an increasing amount of rainfall is delivered by worsening storms, enabling more and more gallinipper eggs to survive from year to year. Michael Reiskind, a public health entomologist at North Carolina State University, thinks that "if every single year we had a major flooding event like Florence, populations of these mosquitoes would go up."
Although gallinippers don’t spread human disease, there are concerns that the swarms will hamper cleanup efforts as they attack work crews, hence the state’s urgency in getting the mosquito population under control. And although mosquitoes themselves aren’t a threat to human crops, the effects of global warming are expected to cause other species of insects to proliferate: this might be bad news, as a recent study estimates that for every degree Celsius of warming that the planet experiences, 10 to 15 percent of the world’s crops will be lost to the expanding swarms.
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