No See Ums – Appearance, Bites And Getting Rid Of Them

“No see ums” is the nickname many use for the tiny flies of the Ceratopogonidae family. These pests can leave you with itchy bites, and due to their small size (0.04 to 0.12 inches, or 1-3mm), they usually get away without you even seeing them. This guide will show you how to kill them, as well as protect yourself from this insect.

  1. Click here to read a summary of this article (includes some FAQ).
  2. Are these insects dangerous, and where can the usually be found?
  3. What about bites from this pest, and how can you easily treat them?
  4. Making a DIY repellent spray, and keeping them out your home.
  5. How do you get rid of “no see ums” using a natural, homemade trap.

What are “no see um” bugs, and what attracts them?

No see ums (or sometimes referred to as “biting midges”) are small flies that can leave itchy bites on you (or your pets). Although it may sometimes feel like it, they are not invisible but are so small that they can be mistaken for a grain of dirt or a bit of lint. Like many insects, it has four stages in its life cycle; egg, larvae, pupae, and adult. It can take between 2-6 weeks to mature from an egg into a pest that is a real annoyance to outdoor enthusiasts.

These insects are attracted by CO2 that humans (and other animals) exhale, and absolutely love areas with lots of water. The larvae develop in aquatic or semi-aquatic conditions, such as around ponds, streams, marshes and bogs. Even a walk through a wooded area can result in bites from these pests can hide out in mosses, algae, and decomposing or saturated logs. They also are attracted to light, and usually flock to things like torches if taken out at night.

Are you camping near a water source? Or are you hiking up the meandering course of a beautiful stream? Maybe an avid fisherman that enjoys fishing on the edge of a dam, a lake or river? Although the list can go on, these are situations where you are likely to run into these insects. However, please don’t let this ruin your holiday or discourage you from venturing outside, as there are easy ways to protect yourself.

PRO TIP: Windy conditions usually mean that no see ums will be hiding instead of coming out to “bug” you, so if you don’t have a spray to keep them away, use this to your advantage. Also, keep in mind that your dog needs to be protected as well, so dab a little tea tree or eucalyptus oil on his collar to keep most of them away from his face.

Are they dangerous, and where are they usually found?

For most of us (including our pets), no see ums don’t pose any danger to our health. In some impoverished tropical regions where malnutrition, weak immune systems, and limited medical services is a huge problem, these insects can make people and animals sick (read these articles on phlebotomus and leishmaniasis). However, there is the possibility that you may be a little allergic to their bites, which means that in addition to the itchiness, you may experience slight swelling. I will cover some treatment tips a little later.

No see ums can be found throughout the world, so it is not really possible to hide from these critters. Does this mean that you will find them everywhere? Well no, as mentioned above, they prefer living in areas where there is an abundance of water, which is usually the same place that they feed and lay their larvae. They also love the heat, so you are more likely to run into them during summer months.

PRO TIP: I just want to emphasize (one more time) that I don’t want you to be anxious about these tiny flies. Yes they bite, and yes they can be itchy, but for the vast majority of humans, they pose no risk to you, your family, or your pets. I recommend that you keep on going on adventures, and just keep them away with a repellent spray.

Do no see ums bite, and how can you treat them?

Yes, no see ums can bite you, but it is mainly the females that to blame for any marks that you find on your skin. While males feed on things like nectar and plant matter, their counterparts need a little protein to start laying eggs. After feeding on some blood, her color changes to pinkish-red (only really visible under a microscope), and she finds a moist and dark place to start the next generation of these little pests.

However, the word “bite” is a little misleading, as the female actually pierces the skin with her specially adapted mouthparts. The insect’s mouth is made up of a flesh sheath and four tiny cutting blades (yikes), which are equally effective on people and pets (although pets are a little more protected due to their fur).

How do you know if red marks on your skin are from them? It can be tricky, as many insects could be to blame, but some tell-tale signs are little sting (nothing like a bee, but much more than a mosquito), followed by some itchiness when its saliva gets involved. They may also leave a fairly sizable welt on your skin (about 1 inch in size), but this varies based on your sensitivity and several other variables.

What can you do: While it might sound overly simplistic, if you simply wash the affected area with soap and warm water, it will reduce irritation immediately and will help prevent any infection. If you are still suffering with itchiness after doing this, I recommend that you apply a little cortisone (or a analgesic cream). As usual, please consult a doctor if the problem doesn’t disappear.

Making a DIY repellent spray, and keeping them out your home:

Picture of a no see um that can be repelled using a sprayAlthough there are many commercial options (containing DEET) that are effective, you can easily make your own spray that will keep no see ums away. It doesn’t take long, it is very affordable, and is tried and tested by many outdoor enthusiasts, including myself. If you just want to keep them out, click here to skip to that section.

Step 1: Get yourself a spray bottle (any size is fine, but for affordability and testing purposes, I recommend a small one for starters) and fill it up with witch hazel and yellow Listerine mouthwash (half/half).

Step 2: Add 20 drops of tea tree oil to the mixture and shake well. If you want it to smell amazing, I recommend that you also add 5-8 drops of lemongrass oil to the mix. If you have a favorite smell, you can always swap this out for another essential oil. I personally love the scent of peppermint, so that is an excellent option.

Step 3: Use a couple sprays on the areas where your skin is exposed (legs, arms, etc.), and although this will not kill them on contact, the no see ums will avoid these places as if their life depended on it. This solution should be applied every two to three hours to make sure that you are well protected against these little flies.

PRO TIP: The Listerine and tea tree oil can be substituted with olive oil and eucalyptus, and due to it being a little thicker, I recommend that you put a little in your hand and rub your skin instead of using a spray bottle. I recommend that you use a dark container (just use black tape if your bottle is clear) to store your solution, as sunlight can have a negative effect on its potency.

Although you can use the spray in your home as well (around your windows, entrance ways, etc.), a little more is needed if you are suffering from an infestation in your area. Generally speaking, you don’t need to do this unless they are frequently bugging you. Here are your options:

Fans and air conditioners: No see ums are not good fliers, and are no match against a stiff breeze, which you can easily create in your home with a couple of fans. If you have air conditioners, these can also help to create an environment that will discourage biting midges. Keep the temperature between 65-70F (18-21C), as this will also make your home a bit too chilly for their liking.

Attach mesh to windows: Since these flies are very small, you will need mesh that is tightly woven (tiny holes) for it to work effectively. This usually means that mosquito nets won’t work, since they generally have holes that are too big. However, as a cheap alternative, you can get your self some material that is used for bridal veils and attach that to your windows.

Protect skin with clothing: If you like in a warmer climate, wearing additional clothing might be the last thing you want to do. However, if you are suffering from a large infestation and keep getting bitten, get yourself some lightweight, long-sleeved clothing that covers your legs and arms. Even if it is only for a short while, this can help you get immediate relief.

Cloths soaked in pine oil: A great way of repelling no see ums is to place a few rags soaked in pine oil in strategic spots around the house. I recommend that you put them above your windows, doorways, and garage doors. If you have window screens, simply pin them on to keep those little midges from even thinking about squeezing into your home.

Fix stagnant water areas: Check the yard for any containers (pots, wheelbarrows, etc.) or waterlogged areas in the garden and improve drainage. The goal is to eliminate potential breeding grounds, so while you are doing this, clear away any rotting wood or plant material. This will reduce the chance of the females finding a suitable place for laying their eggs.

How to get rid of no-see-ums with a natural, homemade trap:

You can get rid of no see ums with a simple DIY trap that uses natural ingredients (no chemicals). I have listed three options below, and they all work by attracting the insect and then killing them. If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments section.

Picture of vinegar that can be used in a no see um trapMaking a dry ice trap: Since dry ice is solid carbon dioxide, when it melts at room temperature, it releases into the air and draws no see ums towards it. When the insect lands on the ice, it will die instantly. You can buy it at Walmart, Costco and most gas stations, but be careful when handling it (wear gloves) and keep away from kids/pets.

Vinegar and soap trap: This trap works because these flies are attracted to the smell of vinegar, and then get trapped by the viscosity of the dish soap. I personally recommend this option, as it is easier to make and safer to use. Fill a small bowl with vinegar (any type), add a few squirts of soap, and you are done.

Yeast and sugar trap: Cut a 2L soda bottle in the middle, and put a cup of water, two spoons of sugar, and a layer of yeast into the bottom half. Stir it, then reverse the top half (nozzle facing down) and secure it using tape. The yeast reacts with the sugar water to produce CO2, and midges that go into the bottle will not be able to get out.

PRO TIP: I recommend that you place your choice of DIY trap into each room in your home, especially if you can’t nail down where they are hiding. If you don’t have time to make them, you also have the option of purchasing commercial ones, which usually use UV light to attract insects. This can be especially useful if you are going on holiday and want to pack one in your bag.

A quick summary of this article, and a FAQ from my readers:

No see ums are tiny (0.04 inches), flying insects, and the female needs to feed on blood to be able to lay her eggs. She will always lay her eggs in a warm, moist environment, as these conditions are essential for her offspring to develop. They are attracted to CO2, light and a few other smells, and if you stay near a source of water, you will usually find these pests.

Despite their size, the females can bite you. To be more specific, their mouth has parts that can pierce your skin, and the result is a little pain and itchiness, which ranges based on your sensitivity to their saliva. These “bites” are not dangerous, can be treated easily, and complications are so rare that it’s not worth being worried, but seek medical help if symptoms don’t disappear.

Your first line of defense against being bitten is to repel them, which is easy to do with the DIY spray mentioned in this article. If you have a problem with no see ums in your home, you can keep them out with window meshes, pine oil and even a couple fans (they are not great fliers). I recommend a combination of these methods if you have a serious infestation.

Once your protection is in place, killing the ones buzzing around your head is easy with a couple traps that you can make at home. You can choose between dry ice, vinegar, and dish soap, and yeast and sugar as your weapon of choice, but rest assured that they are all effective. You can expect big improvements in as little as a day or two.

A couple of popular FAQs, and my concluding thoughts:

Can their bites go through clothing? No, their bites cannot physically penetrate clothing fabric. This makes an extra layer or two of clothing (as well as socks, etc.) a great way to protect yourself immediately.

Can they live in my bed or in my hair? No, they do not live in beds. No see ums are fragile, and a bed would spell their demise. As for your hair, they might get a bit tangled, but they definitely won’t try live there.

Does citronella help to repel them? Yes, citronella does offer some protection against these bugs. However, I still recommend that you use my DIY spray instead, as I have personally tested its effectiveness.

What is the lifespan of a no see um? An adult lives for a couple weeks (usually around 2-7 weeks), but their entire life cycle (egg, larvae, pupa, adult) can take much longer. This is mainly due to the availability of food.

Thank you for taking the time to read my article. I hope that it has helped you learn more about these little insects, as well as what you can do to protect yourself. If you have any questions or suggestions, I would love to hear from you in the comments section. Thanks for reading!

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