After a very wet spring followed by a very dry early summer, lower Michigan has been unseasonably wet for the past month. A couple of weeks ago we got 12 inches of rain in two days and then several more inches two days later. The result has been a massive spike in mosquito populations unlike anything I have ever seen.
But a new type of mosquito is being found in Washtenaw County where I live: the Gallinipper or Psorophora ciliata. These new mosquitoes can reach the size of a small wasp and their bite packs a wallop. They can even bite through canvas!
Ann Arbor resident Ken Clark and his family noticed the strikingly large mosquitoes at their 10-acre plot of farmland in Chelsea on Sunday morning, Clark said.
No one in Clark’s family thought the strange-looking creatures were actually mosquitoes.
Maybe, they pondered, these eerie giants buzzing around and perching on farm equipment were just gentle crane flies.
Then one of them bit.
“They’re biting through cotton canvas shorts,” Clark said. “We’ve never seen a mosquito go through something like that.”
The bites are “like a stab,” Clark said. “Not as bad as a yellow jacket but you know when one of ’ems got you. It’s much worse than a regular mosquito bite.”
The bite doesn’t hurt afterward – it just itches, he said.
The term gallinipper describes a variety of big flying bugs, but in this case, it’s the easier-to-say version of the mosquito called Psorophora ciliata, said Mike Kaufman, a Michigan State University entomologist.
The insect has a half-inch long body and even longer legs – hairy ones with white bands. Clark said the mosquito would easily cover a quarter. It’s aggressive when pursuing its blood meal, and it loves to bite during the day, Kaufman said.
From Dr. Howard Russell at Michigan State University:
The last member our super emergence trifecta is the giant Psorophora ciliate, also known as the gallinipper. Gallinippers are the largest mosquitoes found in Michigan. They have bushy legs with white stripes and these white stripes have led many people to believe that we have been invaded by Asian tiger mosquitoes, which also have white stripes on their legs. The key difference between the two is size: Asian tiger mosquitoes are small, whereas Psorophora ciliata is a huge, almost wasp-sized mosquito. Gallinipper larvae are predaceous and develop in many of the same areas where Ae. vexans and Ae. trivittatus larvae occur. Gallinipper larvae are reported to eat the larvae of both Ae. vexans and Ae. trivittatus. So, one might consider them a beneficial insect, but their presence is a mixed blessed at best because the females are persistent and painful biters, attacking any time during day when their haunts are invaded. Their mouthparts feel like telephone poles being shoved into your skin when they bite.
Apparently southeast Michigan isn’t the only area seeing gallinippers. More from WOOD-TV on the west side of the state:
According to Mark VanDerwerp, an exterminator with Rose Pest Solutions, the bug breed is called “Psorophora ciliata” or Gallinipper.
“They’re native to Michigan, they’ve been here,” VanDerwerp said. But he admits, “they’re everywhere this summer.”
Whether gardening or mowing the grass, Matthew Stone and his family have been under attack in the yard this week.
“You almost think it’s the size of of a wasp but its actually a mosquito,” Stone said. “You definitely notice the bite more.”
I’m pretty sure one nailed me yesterday through a thick t-shirt. It wasn’t wasp sized but it was clearly bigger than the clouds of normal-looking mosquitoes that have taken up residence in my garden. I only noticed it because when it bit me, it hurt!
Dr. Russell’s wife describes our current mosquito plague as “biblical”. I’m inclined to agree.