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What is a No See Um?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 21, 2024
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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.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is a No See Um?

A No See Um is a colloquial term for tiny biting flies from the family Ceratopogonidae. These minuscule insects, often less than 1/16th of an inch in length, are notorious for their itchy bites. They thrive in moist environments and are most active during dawn and dusk, especially in warm, humid areas.

How can I identify a No See Um bite?

No See Um bites are characterized by a small, red, and itchy welt that can develop into a larger, inflamed area. Unlike mosquito bites, they often appear in clusters and can be disproportionately painful and irritating relative to the insect's size. The intense itching is due to the anticoagulant they release while feeding on blood.

Where are No See Ums found geographically?

No See Ums are found worldwide, with a higher prevalence in tropical and subtropical regions. According to the University of Florida, there are over 600 species in the Americas alone. They are particularly common near bodies of water, such as lakes, rivers, and marshes, where they breed and their larvae develop.

What time of year are No See Ums most active?

No See Ums are most active during the warmer months, typically from late spring through early fall. Their activity peaks during the summer when humidity levels are high, which is conducive to their life cycle and breeding patterns. However, in tropical regions, they may be active year-round.

How can I prevent No See Um bites?

To prevent No See Um bites, use insect repellents containing DEET, Picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus. Wearing long sleeves and pants during their active hours can also help. Installing fine mesh screens on windows and doors and using bed nets at night are effective strategies to keep them at bay indoors.

Are No See Um bites dangerous?

While No See Um bites are primarily a nuisance, they can lead to more serious issues in some individuals. Reactions can range from mild irritation to severe allergic responses. Secondary infections from scratching are also a concern. However, unlike mosquitoes, No See Ums are not known to transmit diseases to humans.

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Discussion Comments

By anon998862 — On Sep 08, 2017

1. Benadryl cream (blue label, extra strength)

2. Witch hazel really does a good job, especially if you get it on there right away.

3. Burt's Bees insect repellent

4. If no Benadryl cream, hydrocortizone cream.

By anon998735 — On Aug 15, 2017

We've tried a paste of baking soda on the bite with a bandaid over it to hold the paste there. It works overnight so you can get a little sleep. My ankles are banded with bites and they feel as if they are on fire sometimes. How can something nearly invisible carry so much venom?

By anon992128 — On Aug 16, 2015

Does D-Earth kill these bugs? They are in Northern Minnesota.

By anon990645 — On May 02, 2015

I started putting S S S oil on lightly. It's oily but stops the biting. I can now sit outside at night.

By anon962553 — On Jul 24, 2014

Could noseeums come in with clothes I hung on the clothes line?

By how2do — On Jun 24, 2014

Does anyone know anything about bird mites?

By anon945164 — On Apr 11, 2014

Try hot water or a hot hair dryer. It will take the itching away for quite a while.

By anon359577 — On Dec 18, 2013

I agree totally with the first post. Just don't touch it. Because once you start there is no stopping. Of course you have no control over brushing against one of the many bites and starting the process over again!! Good to know they breed like Mosquitos. Will definitely check for any standing water nearby.

By anon354858 — On Nov 11, 2013

I have about 25 bites on my legs and put a paste of baking soda and water and have gotten relief within minuets! I tried every cream with no relief!

By anon343041 — On Jul 26, 2013

No See Um's have a very short life span and will quickly die off in your home, but if you see them collecting on your walls or ceiling as they easily pass through the holes of window screens, the one way I have found to get rid of them is to use the sticky peel away type lint rollers. Simply roll over them and ta-da! Then toss away the layer of the peel away roller and start fresh for round two and beyond. This works, especially since the little suckers are too small for even a fly swatter to be very effective.

By anon340143 — On Jun 30, 2013

No-see-ums can crawl right through ordinary 14x18 window/patio screens, so you'd need 20x20 to keep them out. In other words, they can get through a hole that is .07-inch square but not .05-inch. Their bites can leave large, itchy scabs that last for days.

By JackWhack — On Nov 21, 2012

@cloudel – I've been the victim of no see um flies before, and I took an antihistamine right after being bitten. This kept me from having as bad of a reaction as I normally would have.

Also, I used aloe vera gel on the bumps that showed up on my arms and legs. It cooled the area and relieved the itching.

I've heard other people say that taking a colloidal oatmeal bath can help with the itching. Also, you can take ibuprofen to reduce the swelling of the welts.

The first time that I got into a swarm of them, I didn't know of any remedies. I just scratched my skin until it bled and stayed miserable for the rest of my vacation. Now, I take a bottle of aloe vera gel and some antihistamines with me whenever I go to the lake.

By cloudel — On Nov 20, 2012

No see um bites can hurt as much as a jellyfish sting! I was swimming in the ocean with a few friends when we all started getting bitten, and we really thought that we were in a school of jellyfish!

The burning just would not subside. We had to wait it out, because I don't really know of any remedy for no see um bite pain.

Another person on the beach saw us jumping around and screaming and figured out that we had been attacked by no see ums. That did explain why there were no tentacle marks on our legs!

By healthy4life — On Nov 20, 2012

@Oceana – The first time I heard about no see um bugs was when my friend claimed she was being bitten in her room by invisible insects. I thought something was seriously wrong with her, like maybe some sort of mental illness that makes you think bugs are crawling under your skin.

I think we were both relieved to find out that the bug did exist. They are so sneaky, because they are so tiny that you really don't notice them until they have already done their damage!

By Oceana — On Nov 19, 2012

A no see um insect sounds like something straight out of a horror movie! I've never heard of this, and if anyone had told me about them, I would have thought that they were kidding. “No see um” is a suspicious name, and it reminds me of the “snipes” my brother tried to get me to go hunting at night.

By anon246335 — On Feb 09, 2012

This thing has made my life miserable beyond comprehension for the past five months.

Today, after endless research, I am going to spray garlic paste / pieces around and see how it goes, because everything else has failed.

By anon194389 — On Jul 07, 2011

@anon107139: we get them awful every year. Once I realize they have hatched, my husband sprays from the house 15 feet out into the yard and removes all the screens and sprays them as well, if they are still getting into the house after spraying the yard. He only had to do the screens once in the last seven years, though.

I wish I could tell you what it is he uses but he is unavailable. I know he found out what to use from the Fish, Wildlife and Parks dept. and gets it at Home Depot or Ace Hardware. Everyone around here uses this method to control them. The numbers getting in the house go down by around 95 percent after spraying the lawn. Hope it helps some. Good luck.

By anon132022 — On Dec 05, 2010

Try listerine in a sprayer to eliminate these pests.

This was used by an exterminator in Florida some time ago.

By anon107139 — On Aug 28, 2010

No-see-ums have made our life a living hell. Somehow they got into our home during the time that some construction was occurring close to our residence. there is a pond near this area also. we saw these bugs outside our home but were surprised when they came through our screens. Nothing we try gets rid of them (ex. sprays, swatters).

By dill1971 — On Jul 11, 2010

@cmsmith10: You can use bug spray or mosquito repellent to prevent bites. If working outdoors around moist areas or lakes, it is a good idea to wear long sleeves.

By cmsmith10 — On Jul 11, 2010

How do you keep from being bitten by a no-see-um?

By apolo72 — On Jun 10, 2008

I heard that no-see-ums are less than 1/4 inch (0.6 cm) long. Pretty tiny! Also, my trick for getting around the drive to itch bites: take your fingernail and press into the bite to make a indentation. Continue to do this until you've made a criss cross over it. Somehow that satisfies the itch without scratching the bite and irritating it more! Of course just not touching the bite at all is best!

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