Unusual Breed of Mosquitoes Hits Dallas

A new breed of mosquito, a salt water mosquito, is showing up in the traps of the Dallas County Health Department. Although there are several theories, nobody knows why the big, aggressive mosquitoes have begun successfully making a new home in Dallas.

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A new breed of mosquito is showing up in Dallas. It's known as the salt-water mosquito. But Dallas is 250 miles away from the salty Gulf of Mexico.

NPR's Wade Goodwyn explores the mystery.

WADE GOODWYN: After three years of drought, this spring, Texas has gotten a deluge. The lakes have filled back up, the plant life is so green it's dazzling to behold, and neighbors are boasting to each other across the fence how low their water bills are. But there's one other thing neighbors are talking about, too.

Mr. JEREMY BROWN(ph): We've noticed a lot of mosquitoes around - some bigger than normal - but they flock to you within like three or four seconds of you being around. And you're constantly swat them away.

GOODWYN: Jeremy Brown does auto body chip and paint repair at car dealers around Dallas-Forth Worth. He stays outside, and as a result he knows mosquitoes. This year he's noticed that there are some that are bigger and nastier.

Mr. BROWN: Longer than normal. One of the guys that I worked with went through a little jug of mosquito spray. They didn't bother me as much but they tended to flock around him. So I don't know what that means. But they were a lot thicker and you could see them, especially when you got down in the morning, you can see them kind of hovering around.

Mr. ROBERT BERNARD(ph): Last night we were here, my son and I, and they like to have took both of our arms off.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GOODWYN: Robert Bernard is retired and he does car repair work in his driveway. Bernard says he can't tell one mosquito from another. He doesn't give them much thought. Most don't, but there are over 36 different species of mosquitoes in the Dallas-Forth Worth area. But Aedas sollicitans, a big aggressive salt-water mosquito, shouldn't really be one of those species.

Mr. SCOTT SAWLIS (Entomologist, Dallas County): They come out in very large numbers, a quick hatch of large, almost of biblical proportion-type mosquitoes.

GOODWYN: Scott Sawlis is the Dallas County entomologist. He's the one who's been finding Aedas sollicitans in his traps around the Metroplex. It's possible that a powerful southerly wind can blow them to Dallas up from the Gulf of Mexico. But then they shouldn't be able to live and breed here. They should bite you and then die a slow miserable death, or a quicker one if you're good with your hands. That's because salt-water mosquitoes need salt water to reproduce.

Mr. SAWLIS: And it has to be high salty, brackish-type water, as opposed to our other friend, the house mosquito, which likes foul, stagnant water, high-polluted content.

GOODWYN: Solis says one possible source are the 25 acres of open salt-water ponds scattered around the region. That's a result of the explosion of natural gas drilling in the Barnett Shale near Forth Worth. That's a theory; nobody knows if it's a good one though. Salt-water mosquitoes have a range of 100 miles and that's making tracking their breeding site difficult.

Mr. SAWLIS: With them being strong flyers, I've got a huge bullet to try and figure out exactly is it coming from this particular mining area or not or this drilling area or not.

GOODWYN: There's one piece of good news: Adeas sollicitans is not a disease carrier like the southern house mosquito, so all they will do is make you miserable, not sick or dead with West Nile. So we've got that going for us, which is nice.

Pass the spray, would you?

Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas.

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