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Published on May 11, 2021

The View from my Seat

No-See-Ums bugs spoil nature walk

By Ernie Williamson / The Bulletin

I don’t know about you folks, but my wife and I, both longtime Texans, had never heard of “No-See-Ums.”

Kelly, however, recently got a painful introduction to the tiny blood-sucking insect.

She takes daily walks on a new hiking trail near our Pearland subdivision. The walks gave her a chance to release energy built up during the pandemic. It was also an opportunity to get close to nature … or at least as close as you can get in Pearland.

During her walk on April 7, something started biting her. And it wasn’t just one or two bites. She was being swarmed. So much for back to nature.

Before long, she had bumps on her face. Then welts on other exposed skin. Then large patches of reddened skin. Then swelling of her face and neck. Finally, severe itching.

It was so bad, her iPhone Face ID no longer recognized her.

What had attacked her? She hadn’t seen anything.

That was one of the clues that led doctors and Kelly to believe that No-See-Ums were the likely suspects.

No-See-Ums are nasty blood suckers that don’t get near the attention afforded mosquitoes despite packing a much more powerful punch. There isn’t a No-See-Um control district.

In hopes of preventing what happened to Kelly happening to you, here are some things I learned that I will share with you:

No-See-Ums are winged insects from the Ceratopogonidae family, which includes over 4,000 species.

They are so small (1-3 millimeters long) that they may look like black lint or some flecks of dirt - hence the name No-See-Ums. But No-See-Ums also have several aliases: Biting Midges, Biting Gnats or Punkies.

They can be found in marshy lands in tropical, Caribbean and Gulf Coast areas where they can be a nuisance to campers, fishermen, hunters, hikers, gardeners and others who spend time outdoors.

“What’s the big deal?” you may be asking yourself. “They can’t be any worse than mosquitoes.”

But they are. In an online article in Science and Soul, Melissa Gouty writes:

“Since No-See-Ums fly with friends, you don’t get bitten once. You get bitten dozens and dozens of times. You are landed on not by one lone insect, but by a nearly invisible horde of female Biting Midges who need the protein in your blood to feed their larvae."

Also, the bites of No-See-Ums are worse than mosquito bites for several reasons:

The No-See-Ums have saw-teeth, not just a needle-like inserter like mosquitoes, causing more irritation.

The welt from a No-See-Um bite can be up to two inches in diameter, almost four times the size of a mosquito bite welt.

The sting of a No-See-Um results in a lesion that can take weeks to heal and can itch the whole time. The itch and the welt of a mosquito bite disappear in 3 or 4 days.

Some people, apparently like Kelly, itch more than others.

A female No-See-Um will inject her saliva, which contains an anticoagulant, into your body. This anti-coagulant keeps the blood pooling and won’t allow it to clot, making it easier for the insect to suck it up.

The more allergic a person is to the anti-coagulant, the worse the itch.

There are preventative measures you can take to avoid Kelly’s fate:

Wear pants and long sleeves when going out.

If you are going to be outdoors around water, douse yourself with a repellent.

Be aware that the biggest bite times are in the early morning and evening.

It has been three weeks since the No-See-Ums swarmed over Kelly. She is feeling better, and her face is once again easy-on-the-eyes.

It took two visits to the emergency room, a visit to her doctor, steroids, intravenous antibiotics, antihistamines and gobs of anti-itch cream.

And lots of willpower to avoid scratching the itches.

(Ernie Williamson welcomes reader input. Please contact Ernie at williamsonernie@gmail.com. Or, send letters in care of The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)