I was enthralled with the creature from the very start. 

A monster mosquito (or IS it?) captured in Wales. Adam Blake photo

The creature in question is a mosquito — or is it? — of imposing size and shape. Behold the long, yellow proboscis, designed for spearing flesh and sucking blood from happy campers at lakeside retreats. 

Take a gander at the long, cigar-shaped body with its variety of stripes and markings that make the critter look like one of nature’s war machines. Consider the incredibly wide wingspan and tremble with unease at the array of shaggy legs and bushy antennae aimed at probing God only knows what. 

This here is a rather impressive bug, practically big enough to saddle and ride. So, you can understand why I got wicked excited Friday when a photo of the skeeter (or IS it?) landed in my email box. 

“Take a look at this,” went the note from my editor. “Talk about big and painful. Want to share the photo, ask some questions and see if anyone can confirm Maine is seeing some giant mosquitoes this summer? Has a Turner Beast vibe.” 

And so instead of dealing with shootings and car wrecks and tales of pain and woe at the end of the week, I spent my time on the tail of a menacing creature of unknown origin, trying to deduce if it was just an ordinary summertime pest or some emerging mutant bent on terrorizing the populace. 


The photo itself had come from a fellow named Adam, who captured the ungainly bug in Wales on the shore of Sabattus Lake. 

“I was just driving down the road and it was on my windshield,” Adam later told me. “I was like, what the… And then I just grabbed it.” 

In the photo, our insect friend is seen trapped between Adam’s thumb and forefinger, the creature itself as long as Adam’s finger is wide. 

“It’s a little bit scary,” Adam said. 

After doing his own research, Adam was able to correctly identify the bug, but we didn’t know that at the time and introducing it now would disrupt my flow so just forget I brought it up for the moment. 

I began my exhaustive reporting by flogging the photo around Facebook, generating a variety of guesses (and a whole bunch of smartass remarks, thank you) about the identity of the winged critter. 


“That’s a crane fly,” said one, all haughty like. 

“Genetically-altered, poison-carrying bug,” offered another. 

There were a few more votes for the crane fly, which admittedly does share some physical characteristics with the critter captured in Wales. The general opinion was that this particular buzzer was too ##$!@# big to be a mosquito.  

Desperate, feeling itchy all over, I turned to help from Hillary Peterson, an entomologist with the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. 

“I do think it’s a mosquito,” she said. “Insect taxonomy is challenging, and there is an incredibly high amount of diversity.” 

Indeed. Peterson provided a list of all the species of skeeter in Maine and the list is as long as your arm and half your leg — dozens and dozens of mosquito families, and every single one of them hell bent on absolutely wrecking your fishing trip or camping excursion with the kids.  


Petersen wasn’t prepared to take a stab at identifying Adam’s capture, but she forwarded my questions on to a man she considers a rock star in the world of entomology. A man who knows more about bugs than the bugs know about themselves. A man so familiar with things that creep and crawl and buzz around ears, he could likely identify this bad boy at a glance. 

Enter Charles Lubelczyk, a vector ecologist with the MaineHealth Institute for Research who, to my great delight, knew exactly what he was looking at in Adam’s photo, and what’s more, he got excited about it. 

“You may have found a unicorn!” Lubelczyk gushed.  

In this scientist’s valued opinion, what we were all looking at was the famed Psorophora ciliata, the largest of all mosquito species in Maine. 

Known also as the gallinipper (not to be confused with the Gollywhopper, which is actually a crane fly named because it looks like the beard that hangs from a turkey’s neck,) the Psorophora ciliata is particularly difficult to study because of its wily and elusive nature. 

“This species of mosquito,” Lubelcyzk told me, sounding a bit like Van Helsing describing the habits of one Count Dracula, “does not come readily into our mosquito traps.” 


He was also quick to point out, however, that the Psorophora ciliata is not a major vector of disease. In spite of its size and daunting design, the gallinipper is really nothing to be feared, although I found this troubling passage at bugguide.net: 

“The word gallinipper originated as a vernacular term in the southeastern U.S. referring to a large mosquito or other insect that has a painful bite or sting…” 

That makes me think that our pal Adam — who correctly identified the mosquito on his own, by the way — was very brave in wrestling this bug to submission the way he did. If things had taken a bad turn, that gallinipper might have gotten the better of Adam and made off with his truck. The gallinipper, after all, is so famed across the nation, that it has appeared in folk tales, traditional minstrel songs and at least one blues song referencing a ‘large mosquito with a fearsome bite.’ 

Much has been written about the gallinipper, and the folks who pay it homage tend to do so with both fear and awe. 

“Depending on what you read, the gallinipper is 10-20 times the size of your run-of-the-mill mosquito,” according to one writer for an Audubon group in Madison, Wisconsin. “Every person I know who has seen a gallinipper up close and personal has not recognized it as a mosquito. It’s just too big. Most think it’s perhaps a large crane fly, until the gallinipper begins to feed… I remember swatting a gallinipper in mid-bite. I blanched at the amount of blood — my blood — that spattered forth. For the next two days, I had a bruise the size of a nickel.” 

And so that was my Friday assignment, tracking down a big, bad mosquito captured through a feat of unimaginable courage by a man in Wales. In the end, I had nothing but love for Maine’s largest skeeter, in the same manner that I developed fondness for the common turkey vulture when I wrote about Maine birds a few years ago. 


The gallinipper and I, we’re buds now. I admire the insect. Respect it. 

And if one is to land on my arm, leg or head any time soon, I will absolutely slap myself silly because I don’t care how many pretty songs are sung about that creeper, I want no part of that nine-foot proboscis or all those fuzzy legs. 

Other that, though, we’re cool. 

If you want to haunt your dreams with more details about the gallinipper, here is a worksheet, provided by Lubelczyk, which contains scads of information and even diagrams breaking down the morphology of the insect. I tell you brothers: the maxillary palpus on that thing alone will keep me up at night.

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