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What are no-see-ums?

Biting midges, or “no-see-ums,” are winged insects from the Ceratopogonidae family, which includes over 4,000 species. They are tiny gnat-like insects (only 1-3 mm long) and, like black flies, inflict painful bites.

Biting midges can be a nuisance to campers, fishermen, hunters, hikers, gardeners, and others who spend time outdoors during early morning and evenings, and even during the daytime on still, cloudy days. They readily bite humans, but they are so small that they may look like black lint or some flecks of dirt. Consequently, the person being bitten often cannot see what is doing the biting — hence the name “no-see-ums!”

Biting midges are sometimes incorrectly referred to as “sand flies.” Sand flies are insects that belong to a different biological group and should not be confused with biting midges. Interestingly, both male and female biting midges feed on nectar; however, only the females feed on blood, which is needed for the maturation of fertilized eggs. The Culicoides genus, in particular, is known to occasionally feed on animals and humans and acts as a possible vector in the transmission of diseases such as Oropouche fever, filariasis, and Japanese encephalitis, though disease transmission to humans in North America is extremely rare.

The distribution of biting midges in the genus Culicoides is world-wide; 47 species are known to occur in Florida alone! Species belonging to the genus Leptoconops occur in the tropics, sub-tropics, the Caribbean, and some coastal areas of southeast Florida. They are often found in or around environments characterized by mud or moist soil around streams, ponds, and marshes. They fly only in the warm months of the year and are most active before and during dusk.

Bites can lead to severely itchy bumps or hives, which are the most common lesions observed with biting midge attacks. Because “no-see-um” bites may occur without known (or even suspected) contact with Culicoides, it is important to remember several clues that may help make the diagnosis of a biting midge-induced rash. First, bumps are usually found only in areas of exposed skin on the legs or forearms; such lesions tend to end abruptly at areas normally protected by clothing. Second, family members or friends may have similar lesions, usually acquired within the same time period. Third, recent travel history to areas where “no-see-ums” are known to be active can often be elicited if the time is taken to inquire.

Although the skin bite reactions are temporary, biting midge lesions often require several weeks for complete resolution to occur. Lesions can be extremely itchy and can lead to intense scratching. First aid management includes oral antihistamines and topical steroids to relieve itching and inflammation. In addition, the threshold for starting oral antibiotics should be low given the risk of bacterial super-infection secondary to scratching.

25 Comments on What are no-see-ums?

  1. How do I get rid of this

  2. Mix meat tenderizer with baking soda into a thick paste. Cover the affected area with the paste. It takes the itch out of the bites that seems to go on for days.
    We use fabric softener sheets to keep them off of us at the beach.

  3. After being bitten it is recommended to use witch hazel on a cotton swab,do this whenever itch gets bad, then use over the counter anti-histamine, Diphenhydramine HCI 25mg.

    Good luck…..

  4. Buy some bug fogger one for each room in the house.

  5. I was covered and researched different methods to get comfort. What really worked for me was a very hot Epsom salts bath(one in the am, another at dinner time) to relieve the extreme itch followed by prescription hydrocortisone lotion 2.5%. The over the counter hydrocortisone cream is not nearly strong enough.

  6. Mix peppermint oil and water in small spray bottle. I spray a mist of this on me. It keeps them off of me. No-see-ums and spiders do not like peppermint oil.

  7. Spray peppermint oil mixed with water .That is the only thing I have found to keep them off of me. I have a small spray bottle that I spray a mist of it on me. It works. I can only find peppermint oil in small bottles. It can get expensive.

  8. I got bit several (literally hundreds) of times while camping. I felt stinging around my elbows, face, and legs. The welps or hives didn’t show up right away, in fact, some are still showing their little ugly selves, still, a day later. I used Cutter bug spray but it was applied too late to do any good. The little critters already did a job on my skin. I have taken over the counter benydryl and used hydrocortisone but they still itch terribly.

  9. midge food // August 1, 2015 at 9:55 pm // Reply

    Got over 150 of these bites in south Missouri. Miserable vacation. Thanks for the good article.

  10. I got bit by one a few minutes ago..it’s hurts like crazy now

  11. I got bit while posting this comment

  12. my friend got bites from gardening. Exterminator sprayed her yard to get rid of them. No more bites!

  13. Let me tell ya there hear in northern oklahoma. Had never had a issue until the last 2 years. They hit the ankles and back of the neck. And you can’t stop itching until you make lesions on your self. I suggest clip your finger nails. You won’t tear the flesh to bad. And reduces infection from dirty nails. It’s really different than a mosquito. And it hurts for days. Malithyon ,DDT, Diazinon. These chemicals kept them away. HELP!

  14. Use redneck cologne hint deep woods off spray everywhere especially ears n neck area

  15. how do you get rid of them in your house?

  16. Vicks Vapo Rub does work to relieve itch for a period of time.

  17. It is reported that if you have a Downey fabric softner sheet near any exposed skin the no see ems will leave you alone.

  18. itchy bites // January 3, 2015 at 9:37 am // Reply

    I use the product After Bite ,works great,

  19. I use after bite ,great relief!

  20. These little things crawl up my legs and bite my body. I can’t see them crawling, but I can feel them and then they bite. They are not bed bugs. I live alone and don’t know how to get rid of them. I’ve used all kinds of itch medicine but they just crawl over it..Please help me someone.

  21. Uncle Buck // May 8, 2014 at 7:31 am // Reply

    Every year we visit my brother and sister in law who live in Florida and we get bitten alive by no -see-ums.Why is it they don’t they even get one bite?

    • still scratching // March 20, 2015 at 7:14 pm // Reply

      For the last 3 yrs I have visited FL in March and came home with lots of extremely itchy bites. FL is not for me!

  22. no see ums look like little specks of pepper sometimes in a triangular shape. very very small but i have seen them with the naked eye and then watched them with a magnifying glass

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