Beaufort News

Biting midge more pesky than in previous years

The biting midge, the tiny insect that is one of the biggest scourges of Lowcountry living, has been particularly vicious in Beaufort County this year, according to the county's director of mosquito control.

The county doesn't spray for or monitor the pest -- more commonly known as the sand gnat or no-see-um -- because it doesn't threaten public health like mosquitoes, which can transmit the West Nile and Eastern equine encephalitis viruses.

Anecdotally, however, the midges' bites were fiercer this March and April than in recent years, said Gregg Hunt, the county's director of mosquito control. Hunt estimated 2007 was the last year in which midges were comparably bothersome.

James Clark, who oversees pest management at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, also said midges' local population seemed "a lot higher this year than the last couple."

Hunt said the midges, which cut through skin like a saw, are peskier and more painful than mosquitoes, which extract blood like a needle.

"As soon as you walk outside, you're just covered with these little black dots, and they're just biting ferociously," Hunt said.

The midge and the most troublesome of Beaufort County's 56 types of mosquitoes both breed in local salt marshes, but each tolerates different temperatures, Hunt said.

The good news: The midge should soon be on its way out as weather warms into the 80s and 90s -- hotter temperatures than the midge can tolerate -- and as the military begins a regular aerial treatment of the depot this week using a massive C-130 transport plane from Ohio.

The military does such spraying, which should kill both mosquitoes and midges, twice a year to keep recruits from scratching bug bites, contracting infections and losing training time, Clark said.

The bad news: Mosquitoes, which were brutal last year, are up next. Mosquito season can begin in April and last into November, with the worst months being August, September and October, Hunt said.

After that, the midges -- which typically peak in March, April and again in November -- should be back.

"There's not much of an overlap," Hunt said.