What Bit You? Tiny Bugs That Bite Like Mosquitoes

We all know them. They are a pain in the neck. The little pests that look like teensyweensy flies but bite like dire skeeters. After being terrorized once again you yell:

What on earth are those tiny bugs that bite like mosquitoes!?

What are those tiny flies which bite like mosquitoes and leave your skin covered with red itchy welts that take a week or more to heal? Why, you can’t even see what is attacking you!

These tiny biting bugs have several nick-names:

  • (1) no-see-ums,
  • (2) sand flies,
  • (3) biting midges,
  • (4) punkies.

These are a grouping of small flies (just 1-4 mm in size) belonging to the insect family Ceratopogonidae. Over 4,000 species of flies belong to this family.

Figure 1 shows a no-see-um fly on a patch of human skin. Comparison of the fly to the hairs on the skin give a good indication of this fly’s relative size.

Figure_1

 

Where Can They Be Found?

No-see-ums thrive on every continent of the world with the exception of Antarctica. The natural habitats of no-see-um flies vary by species; however they really thrive in and near marshes and areas where highly organic wet soils exist.

These insects will not establish inside homes or other human habitats, and cannot thrive in a dry environment.

 

The No-See-Um Lifecycle

Like other flies, no-see-ums have several life stages, including the egg, larval, pupal, and adult stages.

The complete lifecycle of these tiny biting bugs lasts from 2-6 weeks, depending on the species and environmental conditions. Adults live just a few weeks in the wild, and a bit longer if bred in a laboratory.

Female no-see-ums lay their eggs in a most environment, and when they hatch, the larvae are not strictly terrestrial or aquatic (but they cannot live without moisture).

The larval stages live around swamps, along the shores of ponds or streams, and in muddy areas, where they feed on small organisms.

The larvae morph into pupae, and then emerge as adults after the 2-3 day pupal stage.

Once adult flies emerge from the pupal stage, they are ready to mate to perpetuate their life cycle. Mating occurs in flight.

Adults tend to swarm near productive breeding sites, but will disperse for mating or feeding.

Both males and females feed on plant nectar as adults; however, females require a blood meal in order for their eggs to fully develop.

 

No-See-Um Bites

The female no-see-um pierces the skin with a needle-like sucker, and uses a separate injector tube to squirt a small amount of anticoagulant into the bite to keep the blood flowing as it feeds.

The human body sets up an allergic reaction to this anticoagulant, which produces the characteristic red, itchy welt that can linger for days afterward.

No-see-ums like to bite the back sides of human legs, arms, and backs, because there is less wind resistance in these places on a human who is walking.

No-see-ums can bite multiple times and typically feed in large groups, so you will usually find clusters of bite welts on your skin instead individual bites. Any area of exposed skin is vulnerable to attacks from these insects.

Figure 2 (see Page 3) is a photo of two human ankles covered with no-see-um bites. This person was obviously walking barefoot through an area where these flies were active.

 

How Do You Fight These Tiny Bugs That Bite Like Mosquitoes?

How do you stop them? First, if you are planning a day near the lakeshore or where these tiny bugs thrive, make sure you are prepared.

This might be even more important if there are no or low-wind conditions in the weather forecast, because wind affects their flight.

Insect repellents containing DEET or Citronella are effective at repelling no-see-ums. Avon’s “Skin So Soft” is an excellent repellent for no-see-ums. Make sure you treat all areas of exposed skin, because even a small area left untreated can wind up covered with bites.

The best protection might be wearing a long sleeve shirt and full-length pants; preferably made from a fabric woven tightly enough to prevent no-see-ums from penetrating it.

If camping where no-see-ums are prevalent, having a tent with no-see-um mesh covering any openings will keep them out of your sleeping area. No-see-um mesh generally averages about

Figure_2

1,200 holes per square-inch, and the small holes effectively prevent these tiny biting flies from getting past the screen.

The same no-see-um mesh can be found on some portable screen-rooms, which can be set-up around eating areas.

No-see-um mesh can also found with mosquito nets for camping, mosquito tents and mosquito hammocks for those who want to sleep outside of an enclosure. Alternatively, for minimalist outdoor enthusiasts, a good quality mosquito net might suffice.

It is best to keep in mind that the season during which no-see-ums are most active is during May and June, when the weather is just beginning to warm up. The problem will last for a few weeks before the bugs go away. For the yard you can always get a bug zapper.

 

Treatment of No-See-Um Bites

One of the most important things to remember when you have no-see-um bites is to stop yourself from scratching the affected area. Scratching the welts can cause them to break open, potentially allowing them to become infected.

Wash the affected area of your skin with mild anti-bacterial soap and warm water. This will help remove any leftover saliva from the bugs and reduce the amount of irritation you will feel.

You can help mitigate the swelling of the welts by applying a cold-compress or ice-pack. Cold-compresses applied in 10 to 15 minute intervals as needed can help numb the affected area for the first 24 hours, and should provide some temporary relief.

A standard over-the-counter analgesic or antihistamine cream (such as one containing Benadryl) can also help reduce pain and itching in no-see-um bites. Creams or ointments are more effective than sprays.

A medication that is a bit stronger than topical analgesics and antihistamines is Cortisone cream.

Cortisones work to block the body from releasing chemicals or activating cells that can worsen itching and swelling around insect bites.

Zinc ointments and creams are also effective medications to help relieve no-see-um bite symptoms.

 

An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure

Bugged in the backyard?

The best way to prevent these tiny bugs that bite like mosquitoes is to be prepared when you are going on an outing where no-see-ums will be present.

Just make sure you have DEET, extra clothing, and no-see-um mesh screening; along with some Benadryl ointment in case you are bitten.

If the no-see-ums start biting, ditch the short pants and tank-tops for heavier clothing and apply DEET where you cannot cover your skin—minor inconveniences compared to having deal with multiple red itchy welts for a couple of weeks.

 

References

Ceratopogonidae. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved July 24, 2015, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ceratopogonidae

Roxanne Connelly. (2013, August). Biting Midges, No-see-ums. Retrieved from http://entomology.ifas.ufl.edu/creatures/aquatic/biting_midges.htm

Robbeloth, Dewitt. (2013, August 13). Bug bites: The lowdown on no-see-ums. Retrieved from http://mountainx.com/opinion/commentary/bug_bites_the_lowdown_on_no-see-ums/

 

49 thoughts on “What Bit You? Tiny Bugs That Bite Like Mosquitoes

  1. Was in Florida for vacation down south,got bit allover ,a patient of mine looked at them ‘because of his bed bug problem,he said kinda looked like but bites much larger and said no lches at all,he tore of a lot of skin,and scabs not formed,3weeks later it healed but left scares 5 times bigger than bites,I am spending a lot of time, people say sand flies,I think its a blood suckingconenose they done itch and act like bed bugs hiding and they leave bites large ,or the yellow female fly ferosise eaters, u got any idea remember suck blood leaves no itching tears skin open about 1/8 with and depth 3 weeks to heal.

    1. I read a way to solve drain flies but have found that it also kills any other flying small bugs. Mix a portion of white vinegar with a portion of Dawn dishwashing liquid. More vinegar than Dawn. The way it works is the smell of vinegar attracts the bugs, the Dawn makes them stick. I told another friend about this; actually a doctor friend, and he said it worked for him to get rid of fruit flies. Try that. Hope it works. It did for me for no seeums.

      1. will it harm my newly planted/growing clover and flowers? when I walk thru a certain large area newly being used, some kind of tiny flying insects can be seen flying up from the ground ATTACKING you. No pain, but immediate itching like no itch ever. feel like a dog. cant stop scratching til i run in the house, wash with bar soap and then spray my arms with diluted fragrant mr clean. then i scratch it in before i rinse it off. sometimes i dont even rinse off just tap dry with towel. so being effective to kill, can i spray large areas with new seedlings without harming them? Thanks

      2. I spend the night on my aunt’s sofa when I visit. During the night I feel something biting me. And I wake up with insect bites on my hands and arms. The crazy thing is that I never see any flying insect or any crawling bugs. Can you tell me what is niting me? Thank you in advance, Marsha

    2. I have them n my house. I’ve had an extermater here 3 times. We have bought spray ourself… nothing seems to work.

      1. To get rid of the fruit flies in your house keep all breads, crackers and fruit in refrigerator at all times. And keep your drains clean because that’s where they seem to come from. I think they might come from the fruit we buy then go hide in the drain and multiply lol.

    3. as i know of a grait capain, only ” tea tree oil” works. take spray botle, fill up with water add 3-5 drops of tea tree oil, shacke well and spray on skeen… 100% result. good luck.

  2. Thanks for this article. These little B***ARDS have been penetrating my room every night for years and it’s only now that I can identify them. They are the scourge of the flying insect world! They are incredible aerobats, are waterproof (try drown one in the shower!?), can withstand multiple strikes, are near impossible to see at night and practically always go for the face! We need to rid the world of these blood sucking spawn of satan!

    1. Dude, I have the same fucking problem… the part about them not penetrating human homes is Bullshit, they’ve been tearing us up for almost a week!! I think I saw a bomb that works for them but I’m not a hundred percent sure. Did you find a way to exterminate them?!

    2. Okay, how do you KILL them???? Not just stop them from biting, I don’t want to have you put crap on my skin every night when I’m inside my house! Does anyone know how to destroy the little assjoles?!

      1. I tried a lot of insecticides and pesticides but I cannot get rid of these insects. I also applied different creams to almost every part of my body, but the itch and the look of the skin is so ugly.

        1. Pyrethrins do the trick on the current generation. This means you need to keep spraying until you wipe out the next generation too. Else they will just hatch and it will seem like you had no affect on them.

    3. white rub on anti persperant works to keep them off of you , just lightly rub on arms ,legs around ears ,and any where else ,works perfect

      1. I have been fighting these buggers for three years. Are they related to a common fly in Oklahoma? Skin So Soft is great. But, I think I’m gonna spray it on my floors? thank you

    4. Try pouring Coca-Cola down your drains, don’t rinse for 2hrs and that’s how I cleaned out my drains, that’s where they were coming from in my house

  3. So glad to know what these little bastards are. We live across the road from a marshy area, and these little “flying beasts” have been biting the he k out of me! Glad to also know about the Skin SoSoft.

  4. Thank you thank you thank you
    For telling me the satans name
    I shifted to a new apartment near mountain area, incredible flora and founa, and incredible insects,
    I have no way to guard myself against them but i think keeping a 200w high heat bulp outside windows (balcony) keeps them off (not confirmed but you can try)

  5. Hi you says what midges are but exactly what is the best killer machine inside the home? They are to small for wide zappers I never saw one zapped… Michael please tell me one cheap zapper or sucker is available..

    1. If it’s fruit flies, keep all breads and fruit in refrigerator and keep you drains clean, pour Coca-Cola down drain don’t rinse for 2 hrs. they breed in the p traps of your sinks

  6. Omg these little bastrads ate me up,in minutes. Thanks for the great info
    They are unproductable – I’ve lived in the home for 6 years and I can’t prodict when they struck.

  7. Can I send you a photo which I would ask you to identify? It’s different from yours – very tiny, mosquito-like in Italy, Abruzzo National Park.

    1. I live in France and the tiny white insects whose bite is very painful (but I’m not allergic and the pain is limited to the moment of puncture) are maybe the same as yours. They attack singly, like mosquitos, not in groups like midges. Plus, they’re too quick and impossible to swat, not like ordinary mosquitos. I, too, am wondering what they are. I’d love to see your picture.
      Paula

  8. The bites I get sting like crap. I think they are coming out of my air conditioning system. At late afternoon and evening, I’ll be sitting watching TV, start stinging and can never swat one in time. I live in the desert, its very dry here. So, the only water source is my airconditing (which I don,t have on when this happens, or my swamp cooler. I’ve used benedryl, Aquaphor, and because I thought it was a reaction to antibiotics , I was perscribed steriods. One was on my shin and it make my skin bleed, that one I was able to squash.

  9. We just went to the Virgin Islands…and it seems if you are out for dinner somewhere, they come out of nowhere, and your legs and arms are fair game. We had the best vacation, but now home, and I must have at least 100 bites. After getting home, I just have not felt that good…not sick…but just lathargic, and tired…does anyone know if you can feel like this as a reaction from the bites??? Just wondering…

  10. I have had several types of tiny flying bugs; the white ones, brown, black–all of them. I have also been bitten by a fly called the “black fly” which causes river blindness. I got these from a filthy dog house. But for the tiny ones I read a method to clean your drains of flies, as they can “grow” flies. I also had all the tiny ones to deal with. I found if you mix 2 parts of white vinegar with 1 part Dawn liquid and leave little dishes around, it attracts the bugs–even noseeums. The vinegar smell attracts them and once they land the Dawn sticks them in there. You will eventually see the cloudy “crap” they leave behind and will have to change it periodically. Hope it works for you–it did me.

  11. Wow! For the last 5years I’ve been called crazy,delusional or just lieing! Please please someone say tell me why in the only one in the house of 3 who has this problem? And how can I get rid of the problem?????

    1. Not just you! I’m getting bit at work- feel them landing on my hair, eyelashes, and get in my eyes.They particularly like biting my ears.
      I notice them all day, only one other person has experienced same
      I was able to capture one that landed on my arm hair-
      slightly larger than a grain of salt, white, could barely make out wings with magnifying glass
      Not a fruit fly
      No plants in office, so not sure what source is.
      Bathroom is across hall,
      Tried ammonia in drain, but still getting them
      But don’t know how to get rid of them!

      1. For a year I have experienced the same exact thing that you are. Have tried everything, spray’s so many all kind. They have tapered off some, but are still around bitting, my feet, in my hair and my back, legs and other places I won’t mention. They attach themselves to me at bed time. I’m being bit underneath my covers. It’s driving me crazy. Don’t know what to do anymore.

    2. Blood type positive…biting bug magnet. Just got bit by a bunch of no see ums. I made a repellant out of apple cider vinegar, rose geranium and citronella essential oils. Ratio to ounces. If 2 0z vinegar…5 drops each oil shake. Do not smoke or light fires until it settles. No bites now.

  12. TO CATCH INDOOR ONES. GET SOME BUTTER OIL COOKING SPRAY. (FAKE PAM OR WHATEVER)FROM THE DOLLAR STORE. SPRAY IT ON A COUPLE STYROFOAM PLATES AND LEAVE IT UNDER A LITE. I LEAVE IT ON MY GLASS TOP STOVE, WITH THE HOOD LITE ON. A SMALL OLD JAR LID WORKS UNDER BATHROOM VANITY LITE FOR ME. CAN USUALLY WATCH MOVIES FOR THE EVENING, JUST SHOOING A COUPLE. WAY BETTER THAN BEFORE. HOPE IT HELPS.

  13. cured it with vinegar (ascetic acid which acts as a skin penetrator and assimilator for the next mineral) sea salt or any salt (sea salt contains numerous trace minerals your body needs… optional is lugols 5 or 7% iodine (cheap on etsy)

    mix into a large container sea salt however much you want and vinegar any kind (white vinegar regardless of being gmo can kill the HIV protein and cure cancers)

    spread on bite (it will sting but it will subside, the stinging is from the cells bad bacteria dying out and being replaced by the salt which is beneficial to the cells)

  14. Now we have had 2 exterminator here they have no idea what to do.. does anyone know how to get rid of these nasty things… I am extremely alegric to them.. having an awful time…

    1. Go to an army navy surplus store and ask them for military grade repellent. The police when I lived in South Georgia used these during march and October when the little pests emerged. The DEET was what kept them away.

  15. This is a nightmare, I work from home, I have to turn on AC, because only spray Kills them, I am extremely allergic, it must have a way to clean them, this is Los Angeles not to much water around, I live in a condo, they start to show off around 3 p m. . repellents almost don’t work, I look a baby with chickenpox all over my body, I am desperate, around me I put citronella candles, my home office looks a sanctuary. Help me

  16. i’m at home and keep being bit by these bugs that are the same size and look like the no-see-ums but they jump and the bite looks different like my skin swells a little but i need to know how to get rid of them and what they are PLS HELPPPP the bites hurt

  17. This is all very good information. I thought I was being eaten by mosquitos, but had never had bites in clusters before. I put an indoor zapper (Stinger Cordless Insect Zapper, $30.00 at Walmart) between myself and the back door. When I check the tray it never has mosquitos, but instead is full of these teeny tiny lime-green monsters. I’m going to move it to the bedroom when I’m sleeping from now on.

  18. I thought I had bed bugs but we lifted the covers of my bed, next to an open screened window, and there was a cluster of little winged flies… I cannot say for sure this is the same, but these flies are all over the house near areas with windows open. I have a cluster of bites all over my back and assumed bed bugs but I am told by my boyfriend that these little winged things probably bit me instead since there were three in my bed. Want to send a photo to see if this can be identified.. not sure who I can email it to.

  19. I’m having a problem with bug bites I have to many on my feet and now is going on my legs I can’t with them scars but I recently just saw a bug that looked a bit strange it is small like a fruit fly but a bit smaller and black but its not a flat looking bug its like if its upwards is hard to explain the thing is when I tried to squish it with paper it wouldn’t die so I just threw it in the toilet and weeks later after washing all my blankets I just found an exact one on my arm but it jumped I have no idea what this is but I’m tired of it does anyone know what this bug can be ?

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