While they may not carry Zika or West Nile viruses, biting midges are still nasty little biters.
And unfortunately for Beaufort County residents who enjoy golf, fishing and other outdoor springtime activities, swarms of the critters are out in force a bit earlier than usual.
Usually appearing in large numbers later in the spring, biting midges — called Culicoides furens by scientists and no-see-ums by folks in the Lowcountry — don’t suck blood like mosquitoes.
Rather, the bugs land on the skin, then “tear and rip the tissue to lap up the blood,” Beaufort County Mosquito Control director Gregg Hunt said earlier this week.
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They are tiny, but they pack a powerful punch.
Clemson University entomology professor Eric Benson
Bites from the tiny terrors, which “look like little black spots,” are known to “cause pretty bad inflammation, itchiness, redness — sort of like mosquito bites,” he said.
Eric Benson, professor of entomology at Clemson University, agreed.
“They are tiny, but they pack a powerful punch,” he said.
Northern portions of the state, particularly those affected by heavy rains and flooding late last year, are dealing with early swarms of mosquitoes.
But in Beaufort County, “we haven’t really seen an early mosquito season as has been reported in other parts of the state,” Hunt said. “... Most of our phone calls and complaints over the past three or four weeks have been about biting midges.”
Benson said the pests typically emerge later in the spring, and he has not heard many reports of early swarms of biting midges from other parts of the state.
But with biting midges, “you can have populations that are very abundant in one area but not so much a short distance away.”
Hunt said it’s unclear why complaints about biting midges are flooding in earlier than usual.
What is clear is that Beaufort County, with its thousands of acres of coastal marshland, is an ideal breeding ground for the pesky pests.
“Salt marsh habitats are their favored breeding habitat,” Hunt said.
And, unfortunately, the county is ill-equipped to combat the swarms.
Hunt said that, while his department attacks mosquitoes by spraying pesticides from the air, he lacks the funding and equipment to conduct aerial spray runs targeting biting midges.
Even if the county could do that, Benson said it would be unwise.
“Aerial chemical control is not really feasible (to control biting midge populations),” he said. “What else would (the pesticides) be doing to the butterflies and the bees?”
As inconvenient as it sounds, both Hunt and Benson agree that the best ways to avoid bites from no-see-ums are frequently applying insect repellent and wearing long sleeves and pants outdoors.