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More commonly called "no-see-ums" or biting midges, stick ticks are scientifically known as Ceratopogonidae. You'll be hard-pressed to see these tiny insects, as they're less than an eighth of an inch long. However, these little nuisances epitomize the word "pest," particularly when they bite. Though small, their bites are irritating.
A Stick Tick by Any Other Name
Few people refer to the bugs in the Ceratopogonidae family as stick ticks, but entomologist W.W. Wirth did during his many years of study. He described their ticklike propensity to attach themselves to hosts. What he called stick ticks are today called biting midges. Common names for the more than 4,000 species of biting midges abound, and they vary by locale. If you live in the Northeast, you might call them "punkies"; "moose flies" is popular in Canada. "Pinyon gnats" is a name of choice in the Southwest. "No-see-ums" is widely used across North America.
Meet the Biting Midges
Biting midges are found the world over, with North America providing habitats to more than 600 species of this teeny tiny bug. They're found in a variety of environments, habitat preference differing according to species. Some biting midges thrive in salt marsh habitats, while others prefer wet soil, such as that found in livestock farming operations. If you had a magnifying glass or microscope, you'd see the biting midge is usually gray, unless he's been feeding, which gives him a reddish color because he's filled with blood. If you feel the irritating sting of a biting midge, you may also see miniscule red spots, which are actually blood-filled biting midges.
Feel-Um But Don't See-Um
Your first indication of a biting midge may be a stinging or burning sensation. These insects are blood suckers. In North America, they don't pose a danger to humans, though. Reactions range from small reddish welts to an allergic reaction at the bite site causing significant itching. They're bothersome little busy-bodies, annoying people who enjoy the outdoors in early morning or evening hours, or on calm, cloudy days. Outside of North America, some species act as disease vectors.
Sheep and Cattle Beware
Some livestock can be infected with a serious virus from biting midges. The bluetongue virus is transmitted by biting midges in the genus Culicoides. Sheep are particularly vulnerable to bluetongue virus and are more likely to become sick, and potentially die, from a run-in with a biting midge.
Playing Keep Away
Stick ticks are most active during evening hours. Despite their size, they're hardy little suckers. The University of Florida's Entomology and Nematology Department website notes that insecticides are of limited value in controlling biting midges. Insecticides and repellents using diethytoluamide, or DEET, may provide short-term relief for an evening outdoors, but generally have no lasting effective period after application. Insecticides work on adult specimens but they're limited in effectiveness because biting midges are continually emerging from larval habitats. To keep them outside your home, you'll need window screening with smaller-than-normal mesh to keep them from finding their way into your home.
- Purdue University Medical Entomology: Insects and Ticks: Biting Midges
- University of Florida Entomology and Nematology: Common Name: Biting Midges, No-See-Ums Scientific Name: Culicoides spp. (Insecta: Diptera: Ceratopogonidae)
- Jstor.org: New Neotropical Species of "Stick-Tick" (Diptera: Ceratopogonidae) From Katydid
- The Center for Food Security and Public Health: Iowa State University: College of Veterinary Medicine: Bluetongue
- The Center for Food Security and Public Health: Iowa State University: Biting Midge Control Measures
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images