With around 90 species of mosquito already buzzing around Florida, is one more going to make much of a difference? Scientists say they just don't know, which makes it important to track the spread of Culex lactator, an invasive species normally found in Central America and northern South America, Axios reports. According to a study published in the Journal of Medical Entomology, the species, first detected in the state in 2018, has established "thriving populations" in at least three counties, including Miami-Dade, and could have spread further. The study describes the species as part of the "small and poorly studied" subgenus Phenacomyia.
"Introductions of new mosquito species like this are concerning because many of our greatest mosquito-related challenges are the result of nonnative mosquitoes," says lead researcher Lawrence Reeves, per WPTV. "It's difficult to anticipate what to expect when we know so little about a mosquito species." He says other Culex mosquitoes can spread diseases including West Nile virus and St. Louis encephalitis, but "essentially, we know nothing about Culex lactator's ability to transmit pathogens. We don't have a clear idea of what animals it is feeding from." He predicts that the mosquito will expand its range across South Florida and move north up both coasts.
At least 17 mosquito species found in Florida are invasive and scientists say the number is growing as the climate changes. Reeves tells TC Palm that one especially concerning factor is that Burmese pythons, another invasive species, have changed the "transmission dynamics" of diseases by wiping out vast numbers of small animals in the Everglades. "What's been left behind are the rats, which can carry pretty bad diseases," he says. "The disappearance of the other mammals has increased the amount of contact between the vectors (mosquitoes) and the disease reservoirs (rats). We don't have a clear idea of what to anticipate, but these dynamics can change in surprising and unexpected ways." (Read more mosquito stories.)