Producing extreme wet weather conditions, Mother Nature is gearing up for another blood thirsty assault on mankind and this time we won’t see them coming.
The same conditions that encourage mosquitoes, give rise to the infamous “No-See-Ums”, also called, Sand flies (which they really aren’t) or Biting midges, in Western North America, “Punkies” in the Northeast, “Five-o’s” (because they do their biting around 5PM) in Florida and Alabama, “Pinyon gnats” in the Southwest, and “moose flies in Canada.
But no matter what they’re called, their bites are extremely annoying and reactions to these bites range from small red welts at the bite site to localized allergic reactions with burning and extreme itching, sometimes lasting hours.
Ceratopogonidae, or biting midges, are a family of small flies (1–4 mm long) in the order Diptera. Coastal and mountain areas provide their primary habitat and they love wetlands and salt marshes. They will also breed in, backyards, tree-holes, mud and damp leafy areas; anywhere there is moisture.
No-see-ums are the smallest blood-sucking insects on earth, and like the mosquito, only the females bite as they require the proteins from blood to produce their eggs. They have serrated mandibles (mouthparts) that take a chunk out of your skin, leaving a hole that fills with blood. Then they suck it up. They feed both on humans and other mammals. Several species will suck the blood of insects, including mosquitoes. Some species spread the livestock diseases Blue tongue and African horse sickness and a condition called Sweet itch. In some countries, particularly in tropical regions, these insects can transmit parasites and diseases such as filarial worms in humans, but none are known to transmit diseases to humans in the U.S.
Almost invisible, no-see-ums appear at dawn and dusk, just like mosquitoes, and have a 4- to 6-week life cycle. Late Spring and summer are their peak swarming season. Unfortunately, they continually breed, even during the winter months. In winter, they just slow down their life cycle and wait for favorable conditions in other life stages, like eggs and larvae. Their sole purpose in life is to breed, so after mating (males) and after egg laying (females) die. Females may lay 30-100 eggs in a clutch and up to 7 clutches before she dies. Because they do not feed, adults live for only 3 to 5 days. The biting midge larvae are bright red in color and live in the water until fully mature, and able to fly.
No-See-Ums are often confused with mosquitoes. This is because midges closely resemble mosquitoes (although much smaller)and their immature stages (eggs and larvae) share many of the same water sources. Like mosquitoes, midge larvae survive quite well in polluted, stagnant water.
- Midges, raise their forelegs at rest, while mosquito adults do not.
- The wings of midges are shorter than their body, while mosquito wings are slightly longer than their body.
- Midges have nonfunctional (reduced) mouth parts, while mosquitoes have a long proboscis (needle like projection). Mosquitoes pierce the skin with mouthparts like a syringe and suck up the blood. Midges, however, cut the skin with sharp mouthparts like a pair of scissors and then suck up the pool of blood that forms by rolling its mouth into a short feeding tube.
- Midges form large mating swarms in the evening, which may occur over several days. While male mosquitoes may swarm when mating, they are typically in a defined location and difficult to see.
- Midges only live long enough to mate and lay their eggs, while certain species of mosquitoes can live for months at a time.
Because of their prolific breeding habits and the fact that a lot of their breeding areas are protected by state law, midges are impossible to control completely. So, if you can’t kill them all, the next best thing is….
- Avoid areas that are known to have high biting insect activity.
- Keep vegetation surrounding dwellings to a minimum. Mow tall grasses and cut dense foliage. Let the sunshine in. Dry out wet, muddy areas and pick up leaf litter. Get rid of breeding areas.
- Reduce moisture around the house. Get rid of standing water, don’t over water and empty any water holding containers (plant pots, toys, tires, stagnant ponds and pools etc.).
- Batten down the hatches. Fix broken windows, install screens with extra small mesh, caulk openings into the interior of dwellings. Keep windows and doors shut if unscreened. Keep outdoor lights off during evening hours or install yellow outdoor lighting to deter midges. They’re attracted to light, but less so to yellow lighting.
- Midges are weak fliers and do not like to seek blood meals when a moderate breeze is blowing, therefore, ceiling fans or other air circulation devices that increase air flow, inside dwellings, may also decrease biting midge activity indoors.
- Wear light colored, long sleeve clothing and cover exposed areas of skin, when outdoors during midge activity periods, usually early morning and late afternoon, to minimize exposure.
- Personal insect repellents (containing Deet) applied to the skin and clothing as directed usually give several hours protection.
- Synthetic pyrethroid barrier sprays, applied around vegetation and exterior walls may substantially reduce midge adult numbers around treated premises for many weeks. Continuous, periodic, or seasonal treatments to the landscape is recommended.
Midges, even the biting kind, are important to the eco-system. They make up an essential part of the food chain as they provide food for fish and other aquatic animals, bats, other invertebrates, birds, lizards and even carnivorous plants like sundews and butterworts.