How to take the bite out of life in the Lowcountry

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comNovember 15, 2013 

Pictured is a biting midge, what we know in the Lowcountry as no-see-ums, sand fleas, sand gnats or sand flies.

SHARED PHOTO — The Island Packet

John Edman is one of the few people who moved to the Lowcountry knowing full well what he was getting into. He is an expert in blood-feeding arthropods.

That includes our no-see-ums.

Before retiring to Sun City Hilton Head almost 10 years ago from the University of California, Edman used his doctorate degree to research, teach and write mostly about the infectious diseases transmitted by mosquitoes.

He shared some of his knowledge about no-see-ums this week to a room full of people at the Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn on Hilton Head Island.

What he calls the Culicoides furens, we call no-see-ums, sand fleas, sand gnats, sand flies. The official common name is the biting midge. Key word: biting.

Most Realtors probably don't go over the finer points of no-see-ums with clients. Many visitors conclude that the locals are waving to be friendly when actually they are doing the "Beaufort salute" -- swatting no-see-ums.

But no-see-ums and their dastardly cousins -- biting flies and swarming mosquitoes -- have been a part of Lowcountry life since time began.

South Carolina has 420 acres of salt marsh, where no-see-ums breed in the high marsh and begin their wicked lives on the high tides of spring and fall.

They say Native Americans paddled a mile offshore so they could sleep at night. In our day, Sea Pines founder Charles E. Fraser thought mosquito control was equally important to a bridge in Hilton Head's development.

And in their own aggravating way, the no-see-um has helped mold the few, the proud, the Marines who fight for right and freedom to keep our honor clean. Old postcards from the U.S. Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island include one with this ditty:

The mosquitoes here and also the gnats! Are bigger than any kind of bats -- And you should see how they bite, Eighteen hours a day -- and six at night!

They feed on flowers, getting an itty, bitty sugar high to power their clear wings and three pairs of legs. Only the females bite, and when you donate your blood you are giving her the protein she needs to develop eggs. They don't usually venture more than three miles from the marsh home. They're worse at twilight and dusk. And Edman said they are attracted to black.

Edman said repellents with DEET and Picaridin work. Products include Avon's Skin-So-Soft and lemon eucalyptus oil do, too. Look for a product that is 25 percent to 30 percent DEET (10 percent for children), or 20 percent Picaridin, Edman said.

Run a fan on the deck when you entertain because no-see-ums don't like wind.

Beyond that, it's up to you, and the Beaufort salute.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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