Dan McFeely, The Indianapolis Star
Last year's drought that continues this year in some parts of the country was the most extensive in at least 25 years, destroying crops in the Midwest, causing water shortages in the South, and sending temperatures above 100 degrees in places where it broke records.
One might assume that one of the casualties of such a drought, which at its height in July affected more than 80% of the continental United States, would be mosquito eggs.
But no. Mosquito eggs are engineered to withstand the worst of Mother Nature and able to last for several years - until a drought ends and the rains come.
"They are incredibly complex; they have a plastron (protective surface) and actually have their own atmosphere," said Joe Conlon, an entomologist and technical adviser to the American Mosquito Control Association. "Hey, mosquitoes have been around at least 170 million years, and it's not because they are stupid."
East of the Mississippi, rain has returned to most areas, making it possible for those millions of mosquito eggs to begin hatching - and prompting some experts to warn of a huge plague of mosquitoes coming to a neighborhood near you.
Included in that warning: the ominous "super mosquito" known scientifically as Psorophora ciliata, which can grow two to three times the size of the usual pesky buggers and inflict real pain with a bite, even through a shirt.
"Those are the 'gallinippers,' and they typically breed in marshes," said Ralph Williams, professor emeritus of entomology at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. "It is a large mosquito and an aggressive feeder."
Conlon agreed, describing them as having woolen legs and an inch-wide wing span. "There is actually an audible thud when they land on your back," he said.
Gallinippers are known to be flood-water mosquitoes, laying eggs in soil at the edges of ponds, streams and other water overflows when heavy rains fall, according to Phillip Kaufman, an entomology expert from the University of Florida in Gainesville.
"The eggs can remain dry and dormant for years until high waters cause them to hatch," Kaufman said. And they've been found in parts of 35 states east of the Continental Divide and southern Ontario.
But even if these super biters emerge in larger numbers, they are not the large region's dominant species - the U.S. is home to about 174 species of more than 3,200 worldwide - and they don't appear to transmit diseases, according to University of Florida research.
Many more people are likely to be swatting their smaller cousins, the Aedes vexans also known as inland floodwater mosquitoes, which are pesky, found in every state including Alaska and Hawaii, but harmless in comparison - unless you're a dog, susceptible to heartworm. They emerge a few weeks after a big rain.
"This has always been a problem, ... but there is a simple fix," Williams said. "Pet owners should check with their vets and perhaps be put on preventive meds."
These mosquitoes are not the kind that transmit the West Nile virus, experts say. But if a dry spell hits, potentially deadly mosquitoes - the Culex pipiens, also known as the northern house mosquito - could emerge in big numbers, too.
"If the rains stop and we get into a drier season, we will have a lot of places where standing water will hang out," Williams said. "And they like to hang out in tires, catch basins and any stagnant water that may be hanging around."
Williams, who taught entomology for 35 years at Purdue University, said this year is not rare.
"This always lingers as a potential problem," he said. "But nothing to panic about yet."
Range of the psorophora ciliata
These large "gallinipper" mosquitoes that are about the size of a dime love to bite but don't appear to transmit diseases.
• Alaska has the worst mosquito problem in America. In particular, the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge's tundra covered with snow melts and gives rise to a staggering numbers of mosquitoes. Florida, with its Everglades and ban on pesticides, is a close second.
• Each year, the city of Clute, Texas, hosts the Great Texas Mosquito Festival featuring "mosquito calling" and a best "mosquito legs" competition. And in Pelkosenniemi, Finland, there is an annual World Championship of Mosquito Killing where contestant try to swat and kill as many of the bugs as possible. The world record is 21 confirmed kills in 1995.
• Studies of mosquito bite patterns have suggested that the people most likely to be bitten are overweight males with type O blood. The bugs are not only attracted to traces of steroids or cholesterol on the surface of the skin, they also can smell a heavy breather - emitting a large amount of carbon dioxide - some 50 yards away.
• The type of mosquito in the movie Jurassic Park did not feed on blood and could not have been source of dinosaur DNA. "They chose the wrong one," said mosquito expert Joe Conlon of the American Mosquito Control Association.
Source: Indianapolis Star research
The 3 D's of prevention: drain, dress and defend
Drain: Empty out water containers at least once per week.
Dress: Wear long sleeves, long pants and light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
Defend: Properly apply an approved repellent such as DEET, picardin, IR3535 or oil of lemon-eucalyptus.
Source: American Mosquito Control Association
The Indianapolis Star