Do Florida No-See-Ums Exist?
By Kelly Dean
First of all, I had to consult the online Merriam-Webster to figure out how to spell this creature’s name properly. So that shows you that I have had little problem with these beach critters in the past. I guess I just don’t taste good because many of my friends say they are a plague to their beach-kissed skin.
Because there seems to be some intrigue about the no-see-um, I thought I’d do a little research for this article, well that isn’t entirely true. I had a friend from up north inquire whether they were problematic this year or not. She was planning a vacation soon and wanted to know if she needed any additional preparation. I didn’t want to act like I didn’t know anything — so I played dumb – of course.
I have been to the beach a zillion times, but I have never had an issue with invisible bugs. I’ve had problem with visitors I’d wished were invisible, and other things. An occasional red tide or storm induced fish-kill can make the beach a little stinky for that day. It might have been hot, or the rain made the estuary water a bit coppery – but nothing really serious. Like they say, “There’s no such thing as a bad day at the beach.”
However, as mentioned above, no-see-ums must not like the taste of beer because they just don’t bite me. Yeah, I see ants sometimes (the state bug of Florida) and they will bite a rock, but I haven’t experienced any sudden red bump outcrops on my butt and such. But since that’s rather unscientific, I thought I would check with the local experts and see what they had to say. If you want the real story, seek the experts.
So I asked Danny the Bartender from the local beach about whether he’d heard anything about no-see-um activity there, or if he’d heard any complaints from the patrons lately. I could smell a scoop. There could be a story in it and told him I would use his full legal name if he gave me the poop.
Let me tell you, as a journalist, if you want good information, ask a bartender. Patrons think bartenders will accept gossip as a gratuity – they don’t, by the way – give me a break. It goes both ways. Therefore, at first go, Danny didn’t have any information for me. That is a common issue with journalist-ninjas like me; sources need to feel the trust before giving up the real “juice.”
So after I had several beers, danced with the guitar guy, tried on the Carmen Miranda hat and promised a date with the local Uber driver, he started coughing up information like a person who lives on tips for a living. Folks, I know what I’m doing. I’m a professional.
After a while, Danny the Bartender starts to “give up the beans,” as Dashiell Hammett might say (but likely not).
Turns out, no-see-ums are most likely a problem in the spring around May and there are a hand-full of trouble-maker-bugs. I would list them here, but since no one has seen them, I can’t confirm they exist. That would be “un-journalistic.” Plus, I’m lazy; I’m in Florida, go figure. Actually, here’s a picture.
Yes, there are times biting midges (their real name) can be a problem, and yes, there are natural repellents available here. But each locale is different. So if you venture to a beach, especially an island, and there’s a wildlife sanctuary habitat, you need to realize these birds need to eat something, so officials are disinclined to use community bug-spraying efforts on one of the bird’s primary food source.
For example: they wouldn’t ban swimming with shiny dog tags because a fish could bite your nipple thinking it’s a pinfish (the voice of experience, folks). However, Sanibel Island is home to the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, and no-see-um activity can be sporadic but year-round. It is best to do your research before venturing, even in the Fall.
So it’s a trade-off: enjoy the birds of Florida; get eaten by their dinner; drink a shot of Benadryl; and wear repellent.