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Dadgummed no-see-ums

April 24, 2015

I’ve been going around all morning with one pant leg rolled up. No fashion trend here – I’m just trying to avoid aggravating my no-see-um bites.

Beware! The little buggers are out in force!

Bugman and I did the group ride with the Western Nebraska Bicycling Club on Tuesday, and we all stopped at the Scotts Bluff National Monument Visitors Center for a break. While we were standing there, an almost simultaneous “OW!” and a slapping of legs announced the arrival of a swarm of no-see-ums gunning for blood.

I hate no-see-um bites! They are a bit worse than mosquito bites for me. Not only do they swell up, but they break open and ooze in the center and stay itchy for at least a week. Sometimes the initial itchiness can be delayed until the day after the bite (as was the case for Bugman), which causes some people to worry that they are getting bedbug bites overnight, as they’ve forgotten about their no-see-um bites the previous day.

I couldn’t get Bugman to give me a positive ID on what kind of critter was biting us. There are lots of different kinds of tiny biting flies out there, and we didn’t collect a sample.

However, I’m going to assume, based on some stuff I’ve been finding online, that we are likely dealing with a member of the Ceratopogonidae family, possibly Culicoides or Leptoconops.

These critters can pretty much live anywhere there’s moisture. This Extension publication from Purdue University includes as potential breeding sites for members of this insect family: streams, ponds, marshes, bogs, tree holes, saturated rotting wood, wastewater ponds, sepage from watering troughs and “moist soil fissures.”

In addition to the grassy area out in front of SBNM, I’ve also been bitten by these suckers in my own front yard. Like mosquitoes, they seem to be worst around dusk. It surprised me that the no-see-ums were out on Tuesday evening, since the tiny things are not strong fliers, and it was a pretty windy day.

Want to know why no-see-um bites hurt so much more than a mosquito bite at the time of infliction? (If you don’t, stop scrolling!)

The mosquito delicately pierces your flesh with a mouthpart similar to a hypodermic needle. You may not even feel it. The Ceratopogonidae on the other hand? Their work is less elegant – they slash open your skin and then drool some (allergenic!) anticoagulant into the wound.

Here’s a portion of an illustration I found from the St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times), which is credited to Dr. Jerry Butler and artist Jeff Goertzen:


How to avoid these little biters?

Best option: stay inside, especially around dawn and dusk.

From what I’ve read, insect repellents like DEET may have some effect, and wearing long pants and sleeves can help make it more difficult for the insects to reach any chewable skin, but they can still manage to find unprotected areas.

If you’d like to read another source on no-see-ums, try this link from the University of Florida.

Me? I’m going to go put some more hydrocortizone cream on these dadgummed no-see-um bites and try to think about something other than itching.

*scratch, scratch*

Copyright 2015 by Katie Bradshaw, except illustration copyright of cited source

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