Many people don't know what a no see um looks like because of its tiny size, but if one bites, it's hard to miss. The insect is a bloodsucker many times smaller than a mosquito, but with a bite inversely more painful. The sting causes a large welt that can irritate the skin for several days, causing severe itching. It is tiny enough to pass through window screens, making it a nuisance to people and pets.
The scientific name for the no see um is Ceratopogonidae, but it has accumulated many common names. These include the sand flea, sand fly, biting midge and punkie or punky. Common to beaches, wetlands, creek and lakebeds, the insect purportedly stays within 350 feet (107 meters) of its breeding ground. Therefore, if people find themselves under attack at a camping site, on a picnic, or at the beach, moving a short distance can provide relief.
The no see um lays its eggs in standing water, where larvae hatch to feed on dead vegetation. Within a few days, the larva becomes a pupa, then an adult, leaving the nesting grounds in search of food. The bug is most active at dawn and dusk, and people who are unlucky enough to pass through a dark swarm of these insects might get them flying into their eyes, ears, nose, or mouth.
Like the mosquito, it is only the female no see um that requires protein-rich blood meals for egg laying. When one pierces the flesh, it injects a liquid that thins the blood to keep it from clotting, causing irritation and triggering the body’s immune system. Many species are found in Alaska, Florida, the southern US states, and the California coast, though they can be found anywhere conditions are ideal. The best way for people to protect themselves from their bite is to stay clear of breeding grounds and empty standing water from yard decorations, empty pots or discarded tires. Insect repellent containing DEET will also help to repel this tiny predator.