TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A mosquito species native to central and southern America has found a new home in Florida, according to new research from the University of Florida.
The study published in the Journal of Medical Entomology found that “established populations” of the species – known only by its scientific name, Culex lactator – have been found in at least three Florida counties.
UF researchers first discovered the species in 2018 using DNA analysis and other tools. The population appeared to be contained to Miami-Dade County, but scientists have since discovered “thriving populations” of the insect in Lee and Collier counties in southwest Florida. Scientists have located Culex lactator in areas to the south and west of Naples, west of Fort Myers, and in the Homestead area.
Some etymologists are concerned that the non-native species could take hold in other parts of the state. One researcher said the bugs could make their way north to the Tampa Bay area.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re making up into the Tampa Bay area, Orlando potentially,” Lawrence Reeves, UF professor and lead author of the study, told NBC affiliate WESH.
Florida’s proximity to the tropics makes the state an ideal home for Culex lactator and approximately 90 other mosquito species. Reeves said rising global temperatures and its impact on the climate has helped the insect expand its domain.
“Climate change may improve the chances of tropical mosquito species becoming established once they make it to Florida if the state becomes warmer,” Reeves said. “Increasing storm frequency and intensity could also blow in more mosquitoes and other species from the Caribbean, Central America and elsewhere.”
Researchers have been discovering non-native mosquito species in the state more frequently in recent years. According to the UF report, 11 of the 17 nonnative species were first reported in the past two decades, and six of these 17 detected in only the past five years.
Reeves and his team said it’s important for localities to monitor Culex lactator populations because other invasive mosquito species tend to be “the most important disease vectors in the United States.” Mosquitos in Florida can spread diseases like West Nile virus, dengue and chikungunya.
“We need to be vigilant for introductions of new mosquito species because each introduction comes with the possibility that the introduced species will facilitate the transmission of a mosquito-transmitted disease,” Reeves said.