There's a new mosquito on the Florida scene, and scientists are worried
VIERA, Fl. — Meet Culex lactator, the mosquito species native to Central and South America that's making a new home in the Sunshine State.
This Culex may look like every other mosquito that has annoyed you over the years, but scientists say it's risk to human health and wildlife is not yet known.
“Introductions of new mosquito species like this are concerning because many of our greatest mosquito-related challenges are the result of nonnative mosquitoes," said Lawrence Reeves, lead author of a new study published in the Journal of Medical Entomology by faculty at the UF/IFAS Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory in Vero Beach. "In a case like this, it’s difficult to anticipate what to expect when we know so little about a mosquito species.”
Birds can harbor diseases such as the West Nile virus and and St. Louis encephalitis that Culex could spread by feeding off both birds and humans, however, scientists don't know /if the news species is a bird feeder and how it will contribute to virus transmissions. Although mosquitoes are among the most studied insects due to their role in transmitting diseases, a diverse range of tropical forests species are understudied, Reeves added.
New mosquito latest to establish in Florida
Reeves and his team used DNA analysis and other tools to discover the new mosquito species and identify it.
Researchers at University of Florida first found the new invasive mosquito in Florida in 2018 in Miami-Dade County while hunting for other nonnative mosquitoes. Since then, it's been thriving in Miami-Dade, Collier and Lee counties, though it may have also spread elsewhere in the state, Reeves added.
The mosquito is the latest to establish in Florida as the state's climate changes to be more hospitable to Southern Hemisphere critters, according to Reeves. There are more than 3,600 types of mosquitoes worldwide, and they sometimes travel to new places on accident by hitching a ride on an airplane or getting blown in on air currents, Reeves added.
“Increasing storm frequency and intensity could also blow in more mosquitoes and other species from the Caribbean, Central America and elsewhere," Reeves said.
Scientists may not know how Culex got here, but they assume this pest will ultimately reach almost all of Florida, except for maybe the northernmost temperate regions.
"Unfortunately, I think the genie is out of the bottle in this case," Reeves said.
As many as 17 nonnative mosquito species have established in the state but new introductions are accelerating, with 11 of 17 nonnative species first reported in the past two decades, and six of these 17 detected in only the past five years, Reeves said.
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Jim Waymer is environment reporter at FLORIDA TODAY.
This article originally appeared on Florida Today: New mosquito in Florida discovered and it is concerning scientists