Common types of garden bugs and how to avoid getting bitten by them
I like to garden. This is my happy place until I get bitten by a bug that itches like crazy. Mosquitoes pretty much leave me alone. I get stung by bees or wasps a few times a year and while painful for a few minutes they don’t bother me much. However, every once in a while I get bitten by something that will cause me to swell a bit, and that’s all I can do to not scratch it.
I recently had a request to resolve this issue.
The most likely culprit for these bites of something you can’t see is a gnat (a small fly) commonly known as a no-see-ums. Common names for no-see-ums in other parts of the continent include punkies (northeast), five-Os (southeast), moose flies (Canada), pinyon midges (south- west) or biting midges (quite lame).
There are over 4000 species of biting midges in the world. Over 600 species have been described in North America in 36 different genera. Most of them don’t bother humans, but a few do. Fortunately, there are no known human illnesses that are carried by midges, just a painful bite. In fact, the bite itself is not that painful. We usually don’t feel the effects until after the bite. This is why we don’t see the bugs, we just experience the swelling and itching.
Like mosquitoes, the female is the one that stings. She needs blood protein for her eggs to develop and be viable. She lays her eggs in damp areas – under a cowpy, along a pond, in damp compost, in muddy soil. The larvae of some species live in water, others in soil rich in organic matter. Either way, they need a humid environment to become adults. There may be several generations per year, or one generation every year or two.
No-see-ums are bad travelers. Some species can travel up to ten miles from where they hatched, most only a mile or less. Many are small enough that they can fit through standard mosquito nets. So even if they do not breed in the house, they can invade the house.
Most no-see-ums feed at dawn and dusk, but some feed during the day. Women who cannot see are attracted to CO2.
How to avoid
It is not effective to try to treat the pest itself directly. The naturally occurring strain of Bacillus thurineiensis (Bt) which controls mosquitoes, flies and fungal flies, Bt israelensis (Bti) is only toxic to insects of the order Diptera. Bti can be applied to water to reduce non-see-um populations and mosquitoes. Since they can come from neighbors or vacant lots, this is only partially effective. Devices that use CO2 attractants may be partially effective.
Some environmental changes can help, such as reducing areas of standing water and wet areas caused by leaky faucets or pipes. Vary the levels of the pond so that the edge of the pond does not remain constantly wet.
Long-sleeved shirts and long pants will help reduce blemish-prone skin. Avoid gardening during the times of the day when they are most active. Insect repellents containing DEET have been shown to be effective on some invisible insect species, but not all.
I know it’s the end of the gardening season and the no-see-ums are not active now. But maybe you can better prepare yourself for next year’s gardening season.