Franky Lovern, a Pulaski native who lives near the New River Valley Baptist Church, around the Veterans Hill area, had noticed more mosquitoes around his home lately.
“You can hear them coming before you ever see them. They make a loud noise, not like a small mosquito,” Lovern said of them. “They itch like crazy when they bite, I know that.”
Some of the mosquitoes looked to him like a breed he’d seen in Vietnam that gave soldiers malaria, he said. Because of this, he was concerned about the possible spread of disease.
He brought a dead mosquito he’d swatted that was mostly intact into The Southwest Times office, where it was photographed. He said he’d seen five of this type over a two-day period last week.
After passing from the Pulaski Cooperative Extension to the Department of Entomology at Virginia Tech, the insect was identified as a Toxorhynchites, a mosquito that feeds on plant nectar, by Eric Day, the manager of Tech’s insect identification lab.
Very likely Lovern was bitten by a bloodsucking mosquito but killed a different type, which given their size and numbers is not uncommon. “He probably saw one thing and caught another,” said Day. “That happens a lot.”
He added, “The one that he could have seen could be Aedes albopictus (the Asian tiger mosquito).” Day said that Lovern’s description generally fits the insect. It originated in Asia but thanks to commerce has lived in North America since 1985.”
Given the fact the bite itself, according to Lovern, was not acutely painful, it was likely not a Psorophora, known colloquially as a “gallinipper” mosquito, whose bite is supposed to feel like getting poked with a needle. While gallinippers received national media attention for invading various states this summer, especially Florida, the truth is slightly different.
“The gallinipper has been in Virginia for decades,” said Day. “It’s just not that common. Certainly you have places where it happens. Without seeing what bit him, either of those can be found in both places.”
Both Lovern and Day agree, though, about what the likely culprit is for having more of them around: water. “I’ve seen more on account of the rain this year,” said Lovern, who pointed out that he lives near both a creek and a swamp, while Day noted, “If you’re looking for mosquitoes, look for open containers of standing water like gutters or old tires or pet bowls or birdbaths. These kind of forgotten places are where they come up.”
“Finding, evaluating, emptying and turning over these containers works far better than bug zappers or fogging the yard.”
As for disease, Public Health Entomologist David Gaines of the Virginia Health Department said “most of what we see in Southwest Virginia is La Crosse encephalitis.” Starting out with flu-like symptoms, it is a disease that has its strongest effects on children, but Gaines, like Day, advised that the best way to keep it away is to discourage mosquitoes by not leaving any standing water outside near the home.