Now you see-um, now you don't

Published: Thursday, April 17, 2014 at 11:10 AM.

Large scale efforts to eradicate biting midges have proved impractical. Historical efforts to ditch and drain marshes were not only ineffective, but destroyed productive wetlands. Applications of insecticides are impractical for the vast areas needed to be treated, the cost of such efforts, as well as the ecological damage to other species. For most people, no see-ums are just a nuisance. Most insect repellants, especially those containing DEET, will work to keep no see-ums from ruining your backyard cook-out or camping trip.

These tiny flies serve an important role in the overall ecosystem in that they are in turn an abundant and important food source for birds, bats, spiders, other insects, and especially tree frogs. The more we protect the habitats of bats and birds, the fewer no see-ums we have. The loss of Culicoides midges would devastate other species that rely on them as food, and limit the species diversity that keeps our marshes healthy. A few bites are a small price to pay for the lush and productive marshes that help make our area such a worthwhile destination for fishing, scalloping and diving. I just wish the bats and birds would eat more of the little monsters.

Tom Baird has been a fisheries biologist, high school and community college teacher (oceanography and microbiology), director of a science and environmental center, teacher of science and principal in Pinellas County as well as an educational consultant. He retired from the Florida Department of Education and he and his wife divide their time between Tallahassee and Cape San Blas.

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