A new mosquito species has established itself in Florida, according to a new study published in the Journal of Medical Entomology by faculty at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory in Vero Beach.
Since the study was published on March 22, the mosquito has made its way to Collier and Lee counties. Miami-Dade was the first county the UF/IFAS found the mosquito in 2018. These three counties have been discovered to be permanent locations for this species.
“We found these mosquitoes when looking for specimens to do something we call DNA Barcode, the molecular technique we use to identify one species from another. We looked at the DNA, and the DNA told us that, without a doubt, these were something that we had not previously recognized,” explained Lawrence Reeves.
Reeves, the study’s lead author, became interested in mosquitoes while studying butterflies and moths for his master’s at the University of Florida.
“We don’t know that this is a mosquito we need to worry about, and in all likelihood, it’s not,” he explained. “While I don’t think we need to be too concerned about this mosquito, the more concerning thing is that these arrivals of these mosquitos seem to be increasing. Every time one of these shows up here in the states or Florida, each one comes with the possibility that it will shake things up.”
Scientists and residents of these Florida counties are concerned about the potential of mosquito-borne diseases. The new mosquito, referred to by its scientific name Culex lactator, lacks sufficient research to show its potential destruction.
“We do not know much about it, but more than likely, the average person in Florida will have no idea if this mosquito is even in their backyard,” said Reeves.
There are more than 3,600 species of mosquito globally, 90 of those being present in Florida. Lawrence Reeves and his team used DNA analysis to identify the Culex lactator as a new species, but it is still unclear whether it will be an issue of public health implications. To determine this, Reeves and other scientists plan to continue their research.
“For one of these viruses to be transmitted by a mosquito, all these stars must align. It has to be the right combination of various factors,” said Reeves. “The process would look something like having a colony of mosquitoes here in the lab. We would feed them infected blood and see if we can find the virus in the salvatory glands.”
Reeves also mentioned that he thinks “the mosquito districts need to be conscious of it so we can track its spread and what might happen if we do recognize that there is some, for example, public health implication.”
The East Flagler Mosquito Control District released a statement addressing public concern: “Culex lactator has made Florida its new home. While this species is not yet within our District, other non-native mosquitoes are, including Aedes albopictus and Culex quinquefasciatus. The District collects, counts, and identifies mosquitoes in our traps daily.”
Culex quinquefasciatus is a primary carrier of the West Nile virus. This virus is one of the main diseases scientists believe Culex lactator could carry, alongside the St. Louis virus. A primary virus Culex lactator could carry is West Nile. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were five cases of this virus and zero deaths in 2022. However, in all of the United States, there were a total of 1,035 cases of West Nile and 79 deaths. With this mosquito already in Florida, community members are concerned about this new mosquito furthering the spread of this disease.
West Nile is spread to humans through a bite from a female mosquito. According to John Hopkins Medicine, “West Nile virus occurs in late summer and early fall in mild zones. It can also occur year-round in southern climates. Most often, the West Nile virus causes mild, flu-like symptoms. But, the virus can cause life-threatening illnesses, such as Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), Meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord), and Meningoencephalitis (inflammation of the brain and its surrounding membrane).”
Collier Mosquito Control District also released a statement addressing the concern for potential diseases saying, “Yes, a new mosquito is here, but there’s no reason for alarm. Little is known about Culex lactator from South America – we don’t know if it can spread disease or its other behaviors. We’ve been monitoring it closely and will inform our public if it poses any threat.”
Research continues to press forward regarding the Culex lactator to discover whether it carries public health concerns.