A new invasive species of mosquito known to carry viruses, including yellow fever, has been discovered in Florida, scientists have warned.
The Aedes scapularis mosquitoes have been confirmed in two South Florida counties — Miami-Dade and Broward — but are now at risk of spreading along Florida’s Gulf and Atlantic coasts, according to a study co-authored by Lawrence Reeves, an entomologist and research scientist with the University of Florida.
Until now, the insects have primarily been found in the Caribbean and Latin America, NPR reported.
In Brazil, they’ve been found infected with “a range of diseases” such as Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus and yellow fever virus, Reeves told the outlet.
It’s unclear whether the disease-ridden species actually spread the viruses they carry, but as outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases — most recently dengue fever — have emerged in Florida, researchers say the discovery is important.
Lindsay Campbell, who co-authored the study with Reeves, said it is known that Aedes scapularis mosquitoes like to go indoors — and they feed on both wildlife and people.
This is worrisome because species that are capable of transmitting between animals, specifically including bats, and humans create “the prime condition for a spillover event,” Campbell told NPR.
Scientists investigating the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic said last month that the virus “most likely” originated from bats.
Reeves first identified Aedes scapularis in 2019 among mosquitoes he collected near Everglades National Park in southern Florida.
In a follow-up study in November 2020, Reeves found that the species is “established” in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
But his new study, co-authored with Campell, suggests that the mosquitoes will continue to spread north.
Reeves also noted that Aedes scapularis is one of 10 new invasive mosquito species that has been found in Florida since 2000, due to factors including climate change, international travel and global trade.
He predicts that more worrisome species are on their way.
“A lot of people are worrying about Aedes vittatus. [It] is kind of a vector for pretty much everything we’re worried about: dengue, chikungunya, Zika,” he told NPR.
Aedes vittatus is originally from India, but has been found just 90 miles south of the Florida coast in Cuba.