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Beauty and the beast

June 14, 2013
By H.I. JEAN?SHIELDS (Special to The Breeze) , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Help! It is almost time for an invasion of flying she devils into our area of paradise.

Really! Reports are circulating in Seminole County and Palm Beach County that a monstrous blood sucking Psorophora Ciliate (Fabricins) Insecta Diatera: Culicidae is about to be hatching thousands of little bloodsuckers into the very air we breathe.

I do not want to start a panic anywhere with that fancy insect name, so ee will use the name Gallinippers - a name that the Entomological Society has not recognized as a common name as yet, however the average newscaster and other news outlet persons know they will not pronounce it or spell that entire fancy name correctly so you will be seeing and hearing Gallinippers, everywhere, including here.

Have you guessed what critter I am introducing to you? A lowly mosquito, of course.

Recent folklore has it that the word Gallinippers is a proper name for this monster mosquito because it is accused of being able to draw a gallon of blood from whatever it bites.

There are females and males, of course, but the bloodsuckers are only the females. The males prefer flower nectar. She hunts her prey as any hungry mosquito does, following the trail of exhaled carbon dioxide, noise, a warm body, body odor and movement.

She does, however, have a very piercing, and painful bite mode. That is because she uses two probes to enter the skin. One probe injects an inhibitive enzyme that stops blood clots and the other probe siphons blood from the site. Not really a gallon, but you know how folklore works.

She also leaves an itch problem.

There is one and only one good thing that will happen as she prepares to attack. She is so big, about half an inch long, that you will feel her land on your skin. An agile victim can quickly swat her off before she does her painful bite. That is if she is hunting alone. These critters like to swarm as much as any mosquito so no guarantee she will be out for dinner alone. They do not prefer humans any better than a horse, cattle or birds. They are only real aggressive when attacking other species of mosquito larvae, and don't do that enough to do much good.

Some report the Gallinipper as big as a dime, some as big as a quarter. Some say two or three at a time could break your arm. Well, you know how folklore works; and you cannot believe everything you read either.

Everyone does seem to agree and have photos of this critter that show they are pretty ugly and intimidating. They also have long hairy legs displaying a nice neat zebra design. Be sure and look carefully so you will know what is really biting you. Great coffee time conversation.

This mosquito has been around a long time; in fact it is a native insect. I am not sure master gardeners are going to be thrilled about this, even though they are gung-ho for most things that are native. Maybe they can figure out how to use them for fertilizer, they are very inventive with native things being in the right spot at the right time.

Actually these mosquitoes are not a new insect. Last year they were also noted in the news. They were not much of a problem last year. They only live a couple of weeks, once hatched. They are never a problem unless we have a lot of spring tropical storms and a lot of water lying about.

The female lays hundreds of eggs in pasture like places and open grassy fields. The eggs just stay there quietly waiting for long laying water to free them from their nice little soil habitats. They can wait a long time. All mosquitoes come out to play when we have a lot of standing water from tropical storms.

The regular mosquitoes are bad enough but because they are all smaller they can sneak up onto you and through clothes even, and bite very quickly before you can swat them off. They do itch a lot but they seldom bring about pain.

The everyday mosquito will also bite horses, cattle and birds, and even worse, they can carry the dreaded Nile virus all around. Not a good thing. Maybe a nice big disease-free mosquito with a painful bite is a good thing? Like modern medicine, "it only hurts a little" stand still.

You can use Deet repellant, however on the BIG ones it will take more repellant than you really want to be spraying and breathing.

I really am not sure just what use in the scheme of the world these monsters are good for. Bird food? Poor bird if it cannot find a better snack than one of those.

We can always hope that we will be missing out on the big storms and will never even see the hidden bloodsuckers biding their time in their earthly nests.

Now for some "beauty" info - the royal poinciana, Delonix regia. This is one magnificent tree. The Cape has quite a few but not as many as Pine Island and Fort Myers.

I do not have room for one but have always wanted one. I see two every day on the way home here in the southwest, near Veterans Parkway and Skyline Boulevard. They are a fast growing tree and even a little 3-foot tree can be in bloom as it starts its way up into the sky.

It goes pretty far up into the sky, too. A mature tree can be 40 feet high and have a canopy spread of 60 feet. There are dwarf poincianas also.

The usual colors of the blooms of this broad canopy tree are a red orange. They can be breathtaking when in full bloom.

Yes, they can be considered messy as the blooms fall in summer, but then does true beauty ever last us forever and ever?

They are at their peak now and even a bit past with their feathery leaves showing more as the blooms age. The tree still holds its tropical look until the next spring when the blooming begins again.

You can start this tree from seed or buy one already started. The Garden Club has been instrumental in growing this tree from seed and trading it around and having it at our annual spring plant sale.

It is drought tolerant and mostly salt tolerant. This means once planted properly and watered for several months, it will not need to be watered regularly for the rest of its life. It tolerates salt areas but not a lot of salt spray. Trim lower branches easily.

It has large shallow roots as it matures so do not plant it any closer than about 15 feet from any concrete or building.

Planting is not hard - make a hole twice as big as the tree ball and do not place soil up around the tree trunk, it needs to breathe. Plant only as deeply as it is in the container you bring it home in.

The long slender, green seedpods may seem a nuisance as they fall. However they are full of seeds for another tree.

Coming up Saturday, June 29, is the Tropical Fruit Festival, Fort Myers, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., at the corner of 2nd and Jackson Street.?Parking is free. $2 entry fee for 12 years and up. So many tropical fruits to taste and plenty of locally grown produce, local honey and fresh fruit drinks to taste and lots more. Watch for publicity on this fun and informative annual event.

Get rid of all standing water, even a soda cap full can harbor mosquito larvae. Be safe.

Happy gardening until we meet again!

H.I. Jean Shields is a past president of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.



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