Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Monster Mosquitoes

Psorophora ciliata

As the Dalai Lama once said, “If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.” Really all it takes is one or two of the little whiners in your tent to spoil a night’s sleep. I’m convinced their ear-buzzing is an adaptation to raise a victim’s blood pressure so they fill up faster. Makes you wish you could return the favor somehow. 

Well if mosquitoes actually slept, there is something that would likely keep them up at night: The Mosquito Monster! Or rather, the monster mosquito, Psorophora ciliata (sore AH fur uh silly AHT uh). In addition to terrorizing campers and picnickers, this hulking menace, which is two to three times the size of most species, regularly dines on its smaller kin. 

Such inter-family cannibalism only goes on in the larval stage, but I like to imagine that when an adult Psorophora ciliata touches down, the average mosquito would back away slowly, saying “Hey, this arm’s all yours, buddy. I was just leaving anyway and please don’t eat me, heh,” or a pheromone message to that effect. 


It would be comparable to having a 600-pound, eighteen-foot tall biker cut in front of you at the deli. You’d back down, from her, right? Let’s not forget that all those winged vampires are females – the males are strict vegans who eat flower nectar.  

Not only is it big – more than an inch long, and possessing a 3/8” wingspan, this native ’skeeter is aggressive and delivers a unusually painful bite. Through the years the monster mosquito has engendered more than a few nicknames, most of which are not fit to print. Dubbed the “gallinipper,” or “shaggy-legged gallinipper” because of its fuzzy or 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.” 

Depending on environmental conditions and the species, mosquitoes live for as little as a week or as much as a few months, but during that time a single fertile female can potentially spawn thousands of progeny. It’s been said many times before, but it’s important to limit standing water to help control the mosquito population. They can breed in just a few ounces of even the filthiest water. 

One “nice” thing that you could say about Psorophora ciliata is that it isn’t known to transmit disease. There are seventy species of mosquitoes in New York State, and only a few of them can carry diseases such as West Nile virus, or eastern equine encephalitis, which affects horses as well as humans. 

Another plus, of sorts, is that the shaggy-legged gallinipper has never become very numerous. In fact, raising 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. Whatever the reason they don’t breed like flies, we should all be grateful we’re not overrun by monster mosquitoes.

Help reduce the mosquito population by looking around your property for anything that could hold rainwater, no matter if it’s a tablespoon. The most common species in NY State, Culex pipiens, usually ranges no more than 300 feet from where it hatched, so you really can make a difference by eliminating potential sites for them to breed. This is a much better strategy, by the way, than bug zappers. As much as it might be satisfying to hear bugs getting vaporized, these devices kill almost no mosquitoes but do zap loads of beneficial insects.

Given that mosquitoes can potentially transmit Eastern equine encephalitis and West Nile encephalitis, wearing a proven repellant when outdoors at dusk is a good idea.  For more tips on mosquito control, visit the NY State Integrated Pest Management program’s excellent page on the subject at https://nysipm.cornell.edu/whats-bugging-you/mosquitoes/ 

Paul Hetzler is a former Cornell Cooperative Extension Educator.

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Paul Hetzler has been an ISA Certified Arborist since 1996. His work has appeared in the medical journal The Lancet, as well as Highlights for Children Magazine.You can read more of his work at PaulHetzlerNature.org or by picking up a copy of his book Shady Characters: Plant Vampires, Caterpillar Soup, Leprechaun Trees and Other Hilarities of the Natural World


2 Responses

  1. Nora says:

    Great article and great sense of humor Mr. Paul Hetzler !!

  2. Ray Mainer says:

    Why do mosquitos love my ears?

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