This article was originally published on American Blues Scene.
Here’s the latest installment of our weekly series, The Language of the Blues, in which author/rocker Debra Devi explores the meaning of a word or phrase found in the blues. To learn even more about what your favorite blues songs really mean, grab a signed copy of Devi’s award-winning book The Language of the Blues: From Alcorub to ZuZu (Foreword by Dr. John) at Bluescentric.com. “One of the wittiest, bawdiest, most fascinating dictionaries ever.” (Reuters)
A gallinipper (or gabber nipper) is a particularly fierce mosquito (Psorophora ciliata) about twenty times the size of normal mosquitoes. The gallinipper lays its eggs on low-lying dry land. When the land floods, the eggs hatch, releasing swarms of vicious biters up to a half-inch long.
Like all mosquitoes, only the female feeds on blood. Her saw-shaped proboscis can penetrate through clothing and feels as sharp as a fishhook. The gallinipper will chase and bite people and pets, and has even been known to feed on fish and tadpoles. Rumor has it these monster mosquitoes are called gallinippers because they can drink a gallon of blood in a day. They are especially fond of cattle, horses, and humans.
If you stop running long enough to look, you can identify a gallinipper by its dark brown thorax, which has a bright yellow stripe down the middle and two stripes on each side. Gallinippers also have black-and-yellow striped shaggy legs, which is why they’re also nicknamed “hairy-legged zebras.”
In the United States, gallinippers are found from mostly in the Southeast, especially in Florida.
“Galliniper” is also used throughout the South to refer to biting horseflies or crane flies.
Blind Lemon Jefferson describes his valiant battle with some gallinippers in his backyard in “Mosquito Moan”:
I bought a spray last night ‘n I sprayed all over my house Mosquitoes all around my door won’t let nobody come out Mosquitoes all around me, mosquitoes everywhere I got Mosquitoes all around me, mosquitoes everywhere I go No matter where I go, they sticks their bills in me I would say gallinipper, these gallinippers bites too hard I would say gallinipper, these gallinippers bites too hard I stepped back in my kitchen and they springing up in my back yard
“Mosquito Moan”- Blind Lemon Jefferson (Lemon Jefferson)