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South Florida’s latest unwelcome visitor? An invasive mosquito new to mainland Florida

Sun Sentinel logoSun Sentinel 3/17/2021 Chris Perkins, South Florida Sun Sentinel

South Florida has a new invasive invader, and this one isn’t a snake, fish or reptile.

The region’s newest pest, a mosquito known as Aedes scapularis, has been flagged in a study from the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

The Aedes scapularis was discovered for the first time ever in mainland Florida this past November, experts said. The insect had been previously detected in the middle Florida Keys back in 1945.

In the past several months, the mosquito has become widespread in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, the study found.

Like all mosquitos, the Aedes scapularis can spread disease — this one, in particular, is known for its ability to transmit yellow fever to humans, heartworms to dogs and Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus to horses, experts say.

What makes this outbreak concerning, according to researchers, is the Aedes scapularis’ potential for increased environmental adaptability coupled with its ability to spread disease among people and animals.

The insect gravitates to water and coastal areas, which makes Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties an optimal environment for the pest.

And, it seems suited to survive across rural and urban settings, as well, researchers say. These factors could increase the potential for further spread, shifting the mosquito’s threat from regional to statewide.

“At least 16 Florida counties were predicted to be highly suitable for Aedes scapularis, suggesting that vigilance is needed by mosquito control and public health agencies to recognize the further spread of this vector,” said Lawrence Reeves, a research scientist at UF/IFAS in Vero Beach, who co-authored the report.

After the mosquito’s discovery in mainland Florida late last year, UF/IFAS researchers collected 121 Aedes scapularis specimens between Florida City and Pompano Beach. They combined that data — along with information on where the mosquito had been observed, as well as humidity and temperature values — in order to predict the insect’s potential for spread to other regions in the southern United States. The research also pinpointed the areas most likely for such expansion.

So far, the mosquito has been located in areas bordering the Gulf of Mexico, including coastal areas of the U.S. Gulf states, mainland Florida, and parts of the Caribbean and South America.

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