By PAUL HETZLER
Anyone who’s gone on a camping trip lately—or even stepped out of their house at dusk—knows there is a bumper crop of mosquitoes out there. We have our wet spring and summer to thank for that. In such favorable conditions, during a mosquito’s short life (about 2 weeks to 2 months) a single fertile female can create a populace of thousands.
But as we all know, it only takes a couple of the little whiners buzzing your head all night to spoil a camping trip. (I’m convinced their ear-whining is meant to raise your blood pressure so they fill up faster at the ‘pump.’) Though it’s not much consolation, it may come as a surprise to learn that there is something that keeps them up at night: The Mosquito Monster! Or rather, the monster mosquito, Psorophora ciliata. Not only is this native menace three times the size of other mosquitoes, it actually dines on them!
The cannibalism only goes on in the larval stage, but still, with that kind of size difference, even adult ‘skeeters must back away slowly when Psorophora ciliata touches down next to them. I can imagine the scene: “This arm’s all yours, buddy; I was just leaving anyway, heh, heh.” If a 500-pound, eighteen-foot tall biker cut in front of you at the deli, you’d let her, right? (Let’s not forget that all those winged vampires are females.) Ah, if only the monster mosquito limited its depredations to its own kind.
Not only is it big, it’s aggressive and delivers an especially painful bite. Over the years the monster mosquito has engendered some colorful nicknames, although most of them aren’t fit to print. Dubbed “the shaggy-legged gallinipper” because of its fuzzy appearance, Psorophora ciliata was described in 1897 by naturalist David Flanery in the journal Nature as “…the shyest, slyest, meanest and most venomous of them all.” If this is what a respected scientific journal printed, one can only imagine what loggers and trappers have uttered.
One “nice” thing that you could say about the monster is that it isn’t known to transmit disease. There are seventy species of mosquitoes in New York State, and a few of these can carry human disease such as West Nile virus, or diseases of livestock like eastern equine encephalitis, which affects horses.
Another plus, of sorts, is that the shaggy-legged gallinipper has never become very numerous. In fact, Psorophora ciliata was once proposed as a method of keeping the populations of disease-carrying mosquitoes in check, but no one could figure out how to produce enough gallinippers to create an effective control. We should all be grateful we’re not overrun by monster mosquitoes, whatever the reason.
Paul Hetzler is a forester and a horticulture and natural resources educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County.