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Giant mosquito in Pasco County? No, just another routine Florida bug

NEW PORT RICHEY — Joseph Thomsen had never seen anything like this. He armed himself with a water hose.

"I was literally scared," he said, "going into battle with this thing."

Shortly after 6 p.m. June 5, he attacked the intruder on the back porch of his home in New Port Richey.

It looked like a mosquito but much bigger. Maybe a mutant, he thought, the stuff of nightmares.

Thomsen, 28, knocked it from the air with a blast of water, then carefully stepped on it. He didn't want to squish it. This sucker was going on Facebook.

He placed the bug on an empty Marlboro cigarette pack for a photo. If the wings had been splayed, they would have stretched from the 'm' to the last 'o.'

His friends were amazed. One said it was a large mosquito rumored to be invading Florida, a gallinipper.

No way, experts said after a Tampa Bay Times reporter showed them the photo. It's a robber fly, but the confusion is understandable.

"Gallinippers," or Psorophora ciliata, are native to Florida. They've been here longer than we have, said University of Florida entomologist Philip Kaufman, and they can grow to the size of a dime — up to 5 times the size of a common mosquito. But up against a robber fly, or Asilidae, they're still tiny.

Pasco County Mosquito Control District director Dennis Moore and Kaufman both said they are aware of Floridians confusing robber flies for mosquitoes.

But robber flies pursue other insects, Kaufman said, not people.

Rumors of huge mutant mosquitoes invading Florida seem to have started in March after Kaufman and a student published an article about gallinippers as part of the university's online "featured creatures" series.

Gallinippers hatch after floods or heavy rains and populate the east and southeast United States, according to the UF article. The aftermath of Tropical Storm Andrea might be fueling recent concerns, Kaufman said.

It's the largest blood-feeding mosquito, he said, but the gallinipper is relatively rare, even in the rural areas where it is typically found.

It does not transmit diseases, he said, and the bite isn't bad.

"Maybe a pinprick at the worst," he said.

Moore said that with the start of summer and the mosquito season, he is fielding phone calls and people bringing in bizarre bugs, asking about a mosquito invasion.

"I just can't believe how some of these things got so blown out," he said.

Pinellas County Mosquito Control assistant district operations manager Glen-Paul Edson estimated that 90 percent of calls he receives involve regular domestic mosquitoes.

A few people have asked about gallinippers, he said.

"We try to just squash it and let them know that it's nothing new,'' he said, "nothing they need to worry about."

Clare Lennon can be reached at clennon@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6262.

Giant mosquito in Pasco County? No, just another routine Florida bug 06/13/13 [Last modified: Friday, June 14, 2013 1:59pm]
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