It now appears that two of Florida’s worst environmental issues have joined forces.
Invasive Burmese pythons are disrupting the Everglades to the point where mammals are now extremely scarce, and mosquitoes are forced to feed off rats that carry dangerous viruses.
A new study published in the journal Biology Letters from the University of Florida claims that mammals have become so rare in the Everglades that mosquitoes are now feeding off the hispid cotton rat, a rodent which is one of the only known hosts of a mosquito-borne virus called the Everglades virus.
Everglades virus causes fever, headache and in some rare cases, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).
The team, which was led by Nathan Burkett-Cadena, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of entomology, found that a mosquito species known as Culex cedecei is now getting 77 percent of its meals from the hispid cotton rat in 2016. This is an increase of 422 percent from its intake of 15 percent in 1979, which was before Burmese pythons were introduced.
“As far as I am aware, this is the first time that researchers have found that an invasive predator (such as the python) has caused an increase in contact between mosquitoes and hosts of a human pathogen,” said Burkett-Cadena.