Researchers study mosquito species newly arriving in SWFL

Reporter: Emma Heaton Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:

A mosquito species native to South and Central America is invading Southwest Florida, which has people concerned about the potential spread of disease.

Rebecca Heinig of the Collier County Mosquito Control District puts Southwest Florida’s new mosquito species under a microscope, examining its tiger-striped thorax and nearly gold color.

“Culex lactator is found in South and Central America,” Heinig said. “But until 2018, we had never seen it in the United States of America.”

Culex lactator was first collected in Miami in 2018 by a researcher at the Florida Medical Entomology Lab. Heinig said the insect was first found buzzing in Collier County in 2022.

“We don’t know that it spreads any diseases yet, but it’s also not a very well-studied species,” Heinig said. “So, we’re not quite sure yet. We will be keeping an eye on it, though.”

The species has also made its way to Lee County.

“What’s different about it is the fact that it’s come from another place,” said Eric Jackson, deputy director of the Lee County Mosquito Control District. “I mean, it’s still a Culex mosquito. We deal with Culex mosquitoes that are here all the time.”

The Culex genus can spread two potentially fatal diseases: West Nile virus and St. Louis encephalitis.

Jackson and Heinig say it will take more research to determine if Culex lactator has the same abilities.

“Right now, I would say this is just an exciting new addition to our knowledge about mosquitoes in Collier County,” Heinig said.

“It’s really all part of the process of controlling mosquitoes here in Southwest Florida,” Jackson said.

There are more than 750 species in the Culex group worldwide. We don’t even know yet if the Culex lactator can bite humans, never mind the ability to transmit pathogens.

While scientists and researchers study, you can head to an open house at the Lee County Mosquito Control District this Saturday to see how they prevent and treat the mosquito population.

“To get a behind-the-scenes look at at what we do and how we do it. This is perfect timing. Because Saturday we have an open house here on March 25. tended to the public is welcome,” said Jackson. “It’s a free event. Come in and see our aircraft up close. Get in the helicopter. We’re not gonna fly people. But yeah, but climb up in the helicopter. We’ll have our big fixed wing, or old iconic DC threes will be out for people to look at. And then you can also talk with our entomologists and our biologists about these same questions.”

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