Hurricane Florence flooding has led to large, aggressive mosquitoes

Hurricane Florence tore through the East Coast during September, killing dozens of people and displacing thousands of others. The Carolinas were among the states most devastated by the hurricane, and floodwaters continue to endanger infrastructure.

Now, as North Carolinians rebuild in the storm’s aftermath, they have to contend with a new threat: an influx of large, aggressive mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes thrive in water and the flooding caused by Hurricane Florence has given certain floodwater species, such as the Psorophora ciliata mosquito, fertile new breeding ground.

mosquito photo
Getty Images | Justin Sullivan

Psorophora ciliata have yellow scales and shaggy hind legs and can grow up to three times the weight of an average mosquito, according to entomologists. Due to its aggressive behavior, Psorophora ciliata has earned the nickname “gallinipper” or “shaggy-legged gallinipper.”

Due to their size, the Psorophora ciliata can bite through cotton clothing in their search of blood. In fact, Shirley Chao, a biology professor at Fayetteville State University, told The Fayetteville Observer “the bite is a lot more painful” than a usual mosquito.

hurricane florence photo
Getty Images | Chip Somodevilla

Psorophora ciliata and other floodwater species often lay their eggs in moist soil found in pastures, marshes and other areas with high grasses. Typically, those eggs, deposited in clusters of up to 300, will lie dormant for over a year in dry weather, then hatch following significant rainfall.

More than 60 mosquito types live in North Carolina. Absent of heavy rains, eggs from most of those species will die before they turn into larvae. But all the standing water from Hurricane Florence has caused more eggs from more varieties to hatch, Michael Reiskind, an entomology professor at North Carolina State University told USA Today.

mosquito photo
Flickr | CDC Global Health

“When you have major flooding, a lot of these eggs hatch and you can see rapid population growth,” said Reiskind. “Before the storm, I went out for 5 minutes and counted just three mosquitoes in that time. A week after the storm, in those 5 minutes I had eight of them. Then after two weeks, [I counted] 50 in that time, and our area didn’t get hit the hardest.”

To deal with the gallinipper outbreak, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper ordered $4 million to be made available to county health departments for mosquito control in flooded areas.

Additionally, North Carolinians — especially those working outdoors or assisting with storm cleanup — are being urged to use mosquito repellent and cover their arms and legs whenever possible. People are also encouraged to tip over potential breeding areas where water gathers, such as tires or empty trash cans.