Can a swarm of mosquitoes kill you by sucking your blood?
The frightening answer to that childhood question is yes, as some farmers in Louisiana are finding out second-hand through their animals.
Huge clouds of mosquitoes have been swarming livestock to death in Louisiana this month, after the recent Hurricane Laura super-charged their numbers with its heavy rainfall in late August.
Farmers in Louisiana have lost some 300 to 400 cattle due to massive swarms of mosquitoes that have flourished since the storm, according to Dr. Craig Fontenot, a large-animal vet based in Ville Platte.
He says thick clouds of mosquitoes have descended on farmers’ fields, swarming over the livestock and leaving the animals weakened, anemic and exhausted. Many have been left bleeding under their skin, starving for oxygen until they eventually collapse and die.
“They’re vicious little suckers,” Fontenot told The Associated Press in an interview.
The vet has also posted a photo online of a bull he treated on Sept. 2. The photo shows the animal’s belly covered in tiny blood-sucking mosquitoes.
Fontenot says the mosquitoes have become a major problem across five eastern parishes, which are the equivalent of counties in Louisiana.
Officials in other parishes have started spraying farms and marshes with pesticide to cut down on the mosquito population, according to a news release from Louisiana State University’s AgCenter. It’s working in some places, but some farmers have already suffered losses from the swarms.
“I lost a bull Friday night,” said Vince Deshotel, a regional livestock specialist for the AgCenter.
He says he’s spoken to four other cattle farmers who’ve also lost animals due to the mosquitoes.
Fontenot says the mosquito plague has largely impacted cattle, as goats and horses are typically kept in stalls where they can be more easily protected.
He says one particular deer rancher lost 30 of his 110 animals, including several that had already been sold.
“He’s saying it’s over US$100,000 he lost,” Fontenot told the AP.
Hurricanes have occasionally triggered livestock-killing, disease-carrying mosquito plagues in the past. Fontenot says they were a problem after hurricanes Lili (2002) and Rita (2005). Hurricane Harvey (2017) also spawned massive clouds of the insects in Texas, as one witness’ photos from that time show.
Aerial spraying can cut down on mosquito swarms, the LSU AgCenter points out. Livestock producers can also take steps to protect each of their animals.
“Basically, there are many products that can be applied to the animals, either in a spray, spot-on or with back rubs,” Dr. Christine Navarre, a vet at the AgCenter, said in a news release.
She added that treating an animal well is the best way to protect it from blood-suckers.
“Good general nutrition and managing other stressors such as heat and transport are the best medicine,” she said.
Now, imagine how many it would take to kill a cow.
—With files from the Associated Press