Believe it or not, there exists a mega mosquito the size of a quarter!
This blood-sucking monster of a mosquito is commonly known as a “gallinipper” but its scientific name is Psorophora ciliata or Psorophora howardi.
They can be found in North Carolina and are quite rare. They are two of about 175 species of mosquitoes around the United States.
Normally it is difficult to classify a mosquito based on its size because they can grow relatively large or small just depending on the conditions where they grow up – what entomologists call their larval environment.
If the larval environment has few other competing mosquitoes, or is rich in nutrients, or has a cool temperature, the result is larger adult mosquitoes.
However, since there are only a couple of species of mosquitoes that are truly gigantic they can be identified by their size.
Not to mention the fact that they are so much bigger, it is easy to pick them out in a crowd, so to speak.
These mosquitoes can be as much as three times bigger than their more typical cousins!
The gallinippers belong to a genus of mosquitoes that specialize in responding to floods so their moment in the spotlight comes after major flooding events, like the kind of rain that hurricanes bring about.
These mosquitoes are aggressive feeders on mammals, and maybe other vertebrates occasionally, in order to get the blood necessary to make many eggs.
After plenty of feasting, the females produce lots of eggs that get fertilized as she lays them, from sperm she’s stored during mating.
She then spreads these eggs out, scattering them around areas that might flood, such as wet meadows, floodplain forests or even agricultural land.
These eggs are so tough that they are resistant to desiccation – that is, they aren’t damaged by dry conditions – so they can wait around for a flood the following year, forming an “egg bank.”
The interesting question here is ‘why are they so large?’ because evolving to a giant size doesn’t seem necessary to carry out these tasks.
What separates the gallinipper from the many other species in this genus that are not giants?
There is no proven answer to this question, but one possibility is the fact that gallinippers, as larvae, prey on other mosquito larvae.
So, perhaps their size is an adaptation to consuming other floodwater mosquitoes, allowing them to more easily capture and consume smaller species.
The smaller (more typical-sized) mosquitoes that use floodwaters are not predators.
Another reason could be that their size allows them to produce many more eggs, which can also be an advantage when the floodwaters come.
Unfortunately for humans, gallinippers have a painful bite that is definitely well noticed by its victims.
That is why the large numbers of these mosquitoes that emerge after a hurricane receive lots of attention.
At least there is a good side to this unpleasant situation. These mosquitoes likely get just one good blood meal in their lives, limiting their ability to transmit a pathogen.
As far as entomologists know, they don’t transmit any pathogens to people.
And if that doesn’t make you feel better about getting bit by a giant mosquito, maybe the fact that the adults likely don’t live more than a couple of weeks will help ease the mind?
Just remember, they’ll be gone before you know it… but of course, there are all those new batches of eggs still out there somewhere, awaiting next year’s floodwaters!