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Interview With A No-see-um - The Lowdown On Their Life!

June 09, 2017

A noseeum life cycle - egg to larva, to pupa, and finally to the adult stage - within a two to six week period.

So Mr Noseeum, what exactly are you?
Well the best way to describe me is as a small biting fly no more than 3mm in length but I pack a pretty big punch!  That's me in the picture below, sitting on your finger.

Image of a noseeum  

 Image of A No-see-um on a Finger

People have given me several alternative, what I prefer to call derogatory, names in the U.S, including (I'm only including the 'clean' nicknames here): Ceratopogonidae, biting midges, flying teeth, small flies, midges, punkies, sand gnat, sand flea, granny nipper and chitra; in many other parts of the world my relatives are known as sand flies including Australia.   You can read more about me here too!

How many are in your family would you say?
Worldwide we have over 4,000 species (different types to you) of no-see-ums.  In the U.S. we have just 600 species within 36 genera (families) and, locally in the U.S. or my immediate family as I call them, we have in the region of 50+ species in Florida alone.

noseeum taxonomy

      Chart Showing No-see-um Taxonomy

So, yep we have a big network and lots of variety; not only is variety the spice of life, but it makes us more unpredictable and more difficult for you humans to deal with us.  Some folks even reckon we've been on the planet for 20 million years!   

How long do you live?
Normally we complete our life cycle - egg to larva, to pupa, and finally to the adult stage - within a two to six week period. Of course this can vary slightly depending on which of our species you are talking about and the local environment they are in, but two to six weeks is good rule of thumb.

noseeum and biting midges life cycle

                                                                          Life Cycle of Biting Midges

My wife can lay up to 200 eggs at one time in a range of habitats right after each of her blood meals.  Her preferred 'nest of choice' is a damp area with a 'food source' and this can include wet soil, standing water, dung/droppings from cattle or other animals, water vegetation, slow running streams, rotting vegetable matter and so forth; we're not really that fussy, the more moist, warm and smelly the better really and you humans sure know how to provide us with plenty of choice!

What do you feed on?
Well most of us guys feed on other insects or other non-human animals.  So you can see that we get a lot of bad press, mainly due to the girls - I'll come to that in a moment.  Only four genera in one of our species of the whole biting midges world wide actually feed on the blood of mammals.

Biting midge or noseeum feeding

                                                                        A Female No-see-um Feeding

In the U.S. you humans, and some of your livestock, are more concerned and bothered by my relatives in the Culicoides, Leptoconops and Forcipomyia families.  Even then, it is the girls from these families that bite you mammals.  Come on, you've got to understand they only do it to get the necessary protein from your blood for healthy eggs to grow into our kids! 

You know what it's like for mother's, instinct takes over and she searches out the closest and best blood source and if that's a human then, sorry people 'cause I know it hurts but, it's going to happen. She's got pretty fierce mouth parts for a little thing and they act like scissors as they cut into your skin.  They also introduce an anti-coagulant at the same time to help the blood flow and that, in the wound, is what causes the stinging that drives you humans nuts!

Do you transmit diseases?
Generally the answer is no, we don't really get into that for humans, except, well to be honest in parts of South America, Africa and the Caribbean we (and our larger cousins the mosquito) have been known to transmit parasites that form infections, dermatitis and skin lesions from filarial worms.  But, hey, given the number of us out there biting people, this is still a relatively rare occurrence though, so come on give us a break.

noseeum and midge bite marks

No-see-um Bite Marks

In animals, no-see-ums have been identified as being responsible for the transmission of
bluetongue virus to sheep and cattle in the U.S. causing annual economic trade damage valued in millions of dollars. They are also known to transmit Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease virus to cattle, sheep, goats and deer, the last of these being the main affected. Horses sometimes experience allergic reactions to bites which primarily results in some form of dermatitis.

So what can we humans do to protect ourselves from you?

  • In your home environment we really hate our natural predators such as small birds, bats, dragonflies and frogs; if you encourage them we're not going to like it.

image of a bat image of a frog image of a dragonfly

  • As we mentioned you humans leave a lot of natural breeding grounds around for us with standing water and damp in hundreds of places even swimming pools, rain barrels, old flowerpots, blocked rain gutters.  If you remove, cover, clean up and unblock most of these we're going to find life tough in your neighborhood.
  • We love flying through big mesh screens.  If you get very small gauge porch and door screens and window meshes and keep them in good order you're going to ruin our day and a lot of our access to you.
  • We hate the cold so if you use air-conditioning inside it's a big deterrent.  Otherwise those fancy overhead fans that circulate the air sure disrupt our flight ability; just a 2 mph wind can blow us away.

Image of a ceiling fan Image of an air conditioner unit

  • We hate most repellents natural or otherwise, some more than others, but not one single repellent is going to be able to deal with all of our species (even super strength deet - there's enough of us to adapt to it - and it'll probably 'cause you more harm than us in the long run).  

Image of Awesome Tropical Bug Repellent

  • We love to come out to play and feed at the cooler times of day, mainly dawn and dusk, so if you were sensible you'd schedule your outdoor activities to avoid our daily peak times
  • Finally, if we do get in you can always resort to bed nets at night we're not keen on them either, but remember we're small!
  • Be aware that insecticides are generally ineffective and will  only offer very short term and temporary relief for you, so you'll have to apply them regularly and boy those chemicals.......all I'm saying is that you might get a few of us but in the end.......well it's your funeral......know what I mean?   And if you have any doubts about the potential effects of deet then check this clothing damage out,  as shown at SectionHiker.com

Hope that has been of help.  

Join us next time for interview with a mosquito,

The Solid Bar Company Team


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