No-see-um Cause Aches and Pains

In the southeast conditions are favorable for this biting insect.

During our annual Ohio State Global Golf Course Management Workshop, about 50 international turf interns and their instructors experienced the attacks of a common nuisance fly called no-see-ums. These tiny flies are barely visible, but they have large dagger-like mouthparts with which they gash small holes in the skin through which they suck blood. Like mosquitoes, no-see-ums have an anticoagulant agent in their saliva and some people have a severe reaction to this foreign material being injected through the skin. I got very little reaction from the bites, but I noticed that Karl Danneberger had some major red welts forming, some with tiny blisters in the middle. This is kind of reaction is not that uncommon and people getting welts may continue to have the symptoms for nearly two weeks.

The technical name for the insect family of these tiny flies is Ceratopogonidae, and they are given various names worldwide - no-see-ums, punkies, biting midges, and sand flies (as well as some names we can't print!). The adults are no more than 2 mm long, but their bite certainly feels like something larger. They are generally found along seashores, and around lakes or rivers. They will bite any exposed skin, but they seem to prefer the arms, legs and back of the neck. They are known not to travel very far as adults, so attacks can occur in one place but not be a problem a few hundred yards away. The adult flies are also feeble fliers, so windy days are good for avoiding these pests. The larvae are considered to be semiaquatic, most likely feeding on decaying organic material in the soil.

We occasionally get reports of these flies biting people in urban areas and these infestations are often associated with the larvae breeding in the large evaporation tanks of office building air conditioning systems!

Normal fly screen used on house and building windows is too coarse to stop adult no-see-ums from entering a house, lanai, gazebo, or campers and tents. In fact, some tent suppliers sell some of their equipment with "no-see-um netting" that is fine enough to keep these tiny flies from pestering campers during the night.

There is little that a golf course superintendent can do to control these nuisance flies as it would require applications of pesticides to aquatic habitats. The next best option is to warn golfers that insect repellent will be an essential during the times of the year that the no-see-ums are flying and biting! Personally, I find it interesting that many pro shops do not carry insect and tick repellents, even on southern courses carved out of swampland sites! I would think that this could be a real good seller!

So, if you have golfers complaining that they are getting bit by something that they can't see, they may be experiencing no-see-um attacks!

Photographs Top: Bite symptoms, 2nd and 3rd photographs from the top: The biting insect known as "noseeums" in a series of close-ups, Bottom: A smashed noseeum with the red tint of blood that was extracted from the arm by the insect.

Authors: David Shetlar