Watch Out for Tiny, Biting Bugs

June 22, 2011; 5:45 AM
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They know where to find you. And you can't escape.

These tiny menaces aren't enemy micro-drones. They're a more old-fashioned assailant.

Ceratopogonidae.

They're the small biting insects that you see outside all summer, but never knew had a name. They have, in fact, a few: no-see-ems, biting midges or punkies.

According to Penn State Entomologist Greg Hoover, the insects have a few "unspeakable names" as well.

And these bugs are everywhere this summer.

"It could be because of an abundance of moisture this spring," Hoover said.

A map of precipitation by state in April 2011, according to the National Climatic Data Center. Green indicates that the state received significantly more rain than average.

Northern states from Washington to Maine and down to Mississippi all received more rain than average this spring.

No-see-ems breed in ponds, wetlands and near flowing water like streams. They'll also breed in any stagnant water in your yard.

No-see-ems will bite you when you're digging in the garden or sitting out on your boat. Even at home, a screen door won't give respite from the bugs. At between 1/16th and 1/8th of an inch, biting midges fly right through the holes in the screen.

The no-see-ems are significantly smaller than other pesky insects, like the stink bug and the mosquito.

Like the mosquito, the female biting midge feeds on blood. Though no-see-ems are tiny bugs, their victims say the itch from bites is just as bad as mosquito bites.

"The pain is quite extreme when you look at their size," Hoover said.

The folk remedy cure is painting over the bite with nail polish. A more effective technique is rubbing on some antihistamine cream.

But, like most insects, biting midges have their good points. Their rain forest relatives pollinate the cacao plant. The insects are something that we "equate with causing us pain," Hoover said. "But we don't have chocolate without pollination."

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