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Attack Of The No-see-ums

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The Culprit - Greatly Enlarged

Mystery Bug Bites In Lincoln


By James Donahue

Fall, 2004


I find it interesting that a mystery insect is biting the people of Lincoln County, Nebraska. The unseen critters have been bothering the citizens enough that their story made news and I found the story on the Internet.


While Health Department officials say they have no answers, I am quite sure that I do. I believe the culprits are what we Michiganders call No-see-ums, a tiny biting midge or sand fly that is so tiny it can pass through screens and flit around your home undetected. Yet these little pests leave a hot, painful and stinging bite that lasts for days.


No-see-ums is the native name for these little bugs. And I notice that they have been expanding their territory from northern wooded areas, moving farther and farther south. It may be due to climate change although I don’t know why they would be going south.


Our first experience with No-see-ums occurred about 30 years ago, after my wife and I bought a rural Michigan home and moved in. Our bedroom was on the ground floor of the house.


Doris and I were still into book reading in those days, and our habit was to lie in our bed, reading for an hour or so before turning our lights off and going to sleep. That summer our window was always open.


We began complaining about the bites almost as soon as we set up housekeeping in that place. Like the people of Lincoln, we thought of spiders, fleas, mites and a variety of other things that seemed to be impossible to find. There were many nights that we were awake in the night, searching our bed covers, searching for the mystery insect that was attacking us.


The problem got so severe we went so far as to vacate the house and blast the entire building with a strong aerial insecticide that I was sure killed every crawling, creeping thing living in that building. Spiders fell dead out of cracks.


After airing out the house, scrubbing down the walls and floors to get rid of the poison residue, we climbed into fresh bedding that night thinking we were free of the pest now once-and-for-all. But alas, no sooner were the lights out, and we were being bitten anew. What was this thing?


My wife was at the white window sash the next morning with a magnifying glass, and she found a number of very small dead insects. We wondered if this wasn’t the culprit. I took a few in a white envelope to our local Cooperative Extension office and asked for them to take a look.


No-see-ums weren’t known in our area yet, in those days at least, and the extension service was as perplexed as we were. The samples were sent to Michigan State University in Lansing for further study.


We were quite surprised to learn what we had. The bugs were entering our house from a nearby bush through our screens. I sprayed the bush and it fixed the problem.


I have a strange feeling that a family of No-see-ums has moved into Lincoln. And from personal experience, I can say they are not the best neighbors to have around.