Uh-oh. A new tropical mosquito has come to Florida. The buzz it’s creating isn’t good

Florida mosquitoes
Researchers at the University of Florida have identified this new breed of mosquito, seen in an enlarged image, that’s infesting the state. (From University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences)

MIAMI — There’s not a lot of love for mosquitoes in Florida. The pesky insects are unrelenting. Now there’s a new species that’s shown up and become established in Florida — and its arrival is concerning to scientists.

The mosquito — known by its scientific name of Culex lactator — is typically found in Central and South America. Researchers with the University of Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory first discovered it in a rural area near Miami in 2018. It’s since spread to other counties in Southwest Florida.

It’s not known how the new mosquito was introduced into Florida. Scientists say climate change appears to be a factor that’s making the state and other parts of the U.S. welcoming to non-native mosquitoes that can carry diseases.

Mosquito biologist Lawrence Reeves is the lead author of a report on the newly-discovered species, published Wednesday in the Journal of Medical Entomology. He says, “There are about 90 mosquito species living in Florida, and that list is growing as new mosquito species are introduced to the state from elsewhere in the world.”

an entomologist gathering mosquitoes
University of Florida entomologist Lawrence Reeves uses a tool known as an aspirator to collect mosquito specimens. (From University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences)

Eleven of the 17 non-native mosquitoes in Florida were discovered in the past two decades, with six of those detected in the last five years. The deadliest mosquitoes found in the U.S., Aedes aegypti, Aedes albopictus and Culex quinquefasciatus, are all non-native species introduced from the tropics.

Reeves says little is known about Culex lactator, but it bears further study. It’s a member of a group of mosquitoes known to carry the West Nile and St. Louis Encephalitis viruses.

The U.S. faces public health challenges related to diseases like West Nile, dengue, and chikungunya, all of which are spread by non-native mosquitoes that have become established here. Reeves says, “We need to be vigilant for introductions of new mosquito species because each introduction comes with the possibility that the introduced species will facilitate the transmission of a mosquito-transmitted disease.”

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