WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Florida has plenty of invasive species, and scientists are keeping their eye on a new one that has made its way to the Sunshine State.
A report released Wednesday by the University of Florida said the Culex lactator mosquito has made a permanent home in at least three counties.
The study, published in the Journal of Medical Entomology by faculty at the UF/IFAS Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory, said the species was first discovered in Miami-Dade County in 2018.
In the last five years, "thriving populations" have been recorded in Miami-Dade, Collier and Lee counties. However, researchers said that the Culex lactator may have also spread elsewhere in Florida.
Scientists said they are concerned there hasn't been enough research on the species and their potential disease risk to humans.
"There are about 90 mosquito species living in Florida, and that list is growing as new mosquito species are introduced to the state from elsewhere in the world," Lawrence Reeves, lead author of the study and an assistant professor and mosquito biologist at the UF/IFAS research center in Vero Beach, said in a statement.
Reeves outlined why more studies need to be done on the Culex lactator mosquito, which is normally found in Central America and northern South America.
"Introductions of new mosquito species like this are concerning because many of our greatest mosquito-related challenges are the result of nonnative mosquitoes," Reeves said. "It's difficult to anticipate what to expect when we know so little about a mosquito species."
Due to its tropical climate, Florida faces challenges from a variety of mosquito-transmitted diseases like West Nile virus, dengue and chikungunya, which are spread by mosquitoes.
However, researchers said it's unclear if the Culex lactator will compound these challenges.
"The implications are often difficult to predict because not all mosquito species are equally capable of transmitting a particular virus or other pathogen," Reeves said.
The report said this new mosquito species is physically similar to others already present in Florida.
"Because of that similarity, the presence of Culex lactator in an area can be easy to miss," Reeves said.
As the world continues to warm, researchers fear that climate change could increase the chances that tropical mosquito species will become established once they arrive in Florida.
"Increasing storm frequency and intensity could also blow in more mosquitoes and other species from the Caribbean, Central America and elsewhere," Reeves said.
He told WPTV that it's unclear how this species made it to Florida.
When the rainy season begins in a few months, residents are reminded to remove standing water from their property to prevent mosquito breeding grounds.
"We need to be vigilant for these mosquitoes, and the best way we can do that is to support our local mosquito control districts," Reeves said.
There are more than 3,600 types of mosquitoes across the world. As many as 17 nonnative mosquito species are established in the state, according to the University of Florida report.