Scientists from the University of Florida (UF) warned about the possibility that the Culex lactator mosquito, a species from the tropics whose presence has been detected in this state, could act as a potential vector for disease transmission.
The state university center released a statement on Wednesday stating that professors from the Medical Entomology Laboratory of its Faculty of Agricultural and Life Sciences (IFAS) showed in a study that Culex lactator already resides permanently in at least three Florida counties.
Originating in Central America and the northern part of South America, Culex lactator belongs to the Culex group of mosquitoes, which includes species that transmit West Nile and St. Louis encephalitis viruses.RELATED
The scientific study, published in the Journal of Medical Entomology, notes that this species was discovered in Miami-Dade County in 2018 by UF/IFAS professors during an investigation to detect other non-native mosquitoes.
The study highlights that, since then, mosquito populations have been recorded in Miami-Dade, Collier and Lee counties, an expansion that, they say, has not been sufficiently investigated.
Lawrence Reeves, lead author of the study and a mosquito biologist at the UF/IFAS research center, noted that there are about 90 types of mosquitoes in Florida, a list that, he said, “grows as they are introduced, from other parts of the world, new species.
The expert said that the introduction of new species of mosquitoes like this one is worrying, because, being non-native, “they are considered the most problematic.”
“Culex lactator is physically similar to known mosquito species from Florida. It looks like other more common ones”, Reeves clarified, after pointing out that due to this similarity its presence in an area can easily go unnoticed.
Reeves and his team of scientists used DNA analysis to not only discover that they had found a new species of mosquito, but also to identify it as Culex lactator.
He explained that each year Florida faces problems related to mosquito-borne diseases such as West Nile, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, Dengue and Chikungunya, among others.
“It is too early to know if Culex lactator will cause any problems, but the implications are often difficult to predict because not all mosquito species are equally capable of transmitting a virus,” he noted.
Initial Culex lactator specimens were collected in 2018 from rural areas of southern Miami-Dade County, south of Florida City, followed by additional adults and immatures in 2022 from the same locations.
That same year, the presence of Culex lactator was detected in Collier and Lee counties.
In Florida, 17 non-native mosquito species have become established, with 11 of these reported for the first time in the last two decades and six in the last five years, Reeves explained.
The Aedes aegypti, Aedes albopictus, and Culex quinquefasciatus mosquitoes, which are considered among the most important disease vectors in the United States, as is the new species Culex lactator, are all non-native Florida species from the tropics.