Posts Tagged ‘mosquitoes in Maine’

Midges From Hell: A Lesson in Humility

You may think you see 3 midges in the red square, but if you click on the picture to enlarge it and look very closely, you will see that there are actually 3 additional very tiny  biting midges that give them their well-deserved name of

You may think you see 3 midges in the red square, but if you click on the picture to enlarge it and look very closely, you will see that there are actually 3 additional very tiny biting midges that give them their well-deserved name of “no-see-ums.”

Summertime,  friends ask me if they can come up to visit us in Maine for a few days.  My answer is always:  “Sure.  But don’t even think about it until the very end of July.  You will be so tormented by bugs that you will be unable to enjoy yourself.”

Besides lobsters, LLBean, Acadia National Park, hunting, fishing, and long winters, Maine is known for its bugs.

Unlike Maine, Spring in my hometown is awash is cherry blossoms, tulips, cool sunny weather, and brilliant blue skies.

But in rural Maine, Spring skies are usually a dull gunmetal grey and  there is thick, oozing mud everywhere.  In fact early Spring in Maine is known as Mud Season.  Tree blossoms are hard to come by.  But the worst thing about Spring is that after Mud Season comes Bug Season — and it segues right into much of the summer.

It’s unpleasant, that’s for sure.  Blackflies are the biggest culprits and intiators of Bug Season.  Dozens will swarm so thickly that it can be a challenge to go from the front door to the car without being molested.  To hang laundry, I wear a headnet.


Everyone dresses modestly during blackfly season:  long sleeves, long pants, bandannas around the neck, and liberal doses of DEET, which although it doesn’t deter their annoying swarming, it will deter them from biting.  Blackfly season traditionally lasts from Mother’s Day to Father’s Day, which is the second week of May until mid-June.

But just when the blackfly cycle comes to a halt, deerflies take their place.  These flies look something like Stealth Nighthawk bombers, with sharply pointy, triangulated wings. (The following 3 deerfly-related  photos come from a Google images search I did on the Internet. And note the resemblance to a Stealth Nighthawk fighter jet)


Deer fly

Stealth Nighthawk

Stealth Nighthawk

They don’t just bite, they take out chunks of flesh.  Oddly, they primarily dive-bomb the top of one’s head.  As with blackflies, DEET doesn’t prevent deerflies from swarming, but it will prevent them from biting you.  One Mainer I know wears a baseball cap with the top plastered liberally with sticky 2-sided carpet tape.  He is a walking flytrap, but it works.

You can buy deerfly tape, but two-sided carpet tape serves exactly the same purpose

You can buy deerfly tape, but two-sided carpet tape serves exactly the same purpose


Ticks also rear their ugly heads in Spring.  They’re nearly impossible to avoid if you hike or walk in grass and brush, but a vigilant inspection and immediate removal can usually prevent them from becoming embedded in one’s skin  and their transmitting Lyme disease (Lyme disease is rampant among rural Mainers, who spend much of their time outdoors for both work and leisure).

Mosquito season starts in the middle of deerfly season, and lasts from the third week of June until August.  Maine mosquitoes are big – – so big that some joke that the Maine mosquito is the State Bird.  But mosquitoes can be controlled by DEET, and when possible, avoiding outdoor excursions at dusk or after dark, when they are at their worst.

So let’s talk about DEET.  Until recently, it was believed that DEET is harmless to humans (but not so for pets, so don’t spray it on your dog!).  Supposedly, DEET did not enter the bloodstream and was “safe.”  But it’s a hard-core pesticide, so I was always dubious of this claim.  It comes in varying strengths:  10%,15%,  30%, and 100%.  If you use the 100% strength, one application should last 2 – 4 hours.  With the 15% solution, you will need to re-apply every 20 minutes.

DEET was always a last resort for me.  I avoid pesticides on my fruits and vegetables; applying pesticide directly onto one’s open pores seems that much more pernicious.  And latest findings suggest my fears are not unfounded:  DEET is no longer recommended in 100% strength.  It may be responsible for damage to one’s nervous system, seizures, memory loss and loss of motor coordination. And yes, it does enter the blood stream.   It is no longer recommended in strengths above ten percent for use in children, and for children under 2 only one 10% application is recommended per day.  The newest recommendations suggest applying DEET only where the risk of mosquito bites is worse than the effects of the DEET (places where West Nile Virus, Eastern Equine encephalitis, and malaria are concerns; the first two have recorded fatal human cases in the eastern US).

So what are the alternatives?

Besides making sure that body parts are covered (and mosquitoes will penetrate thin fabric) and avoiding exposure at dusk and dark (mosquitoes’ favorite – – but not only – –  time for biting), there are certain plant-based repellants that are mildly effective.  These include citronella and eucalyptus, and Avon’s Skin So Soft oil.  Much of it depends on the individual in terms of their effectiveness.  It really isn’t your imagination:  mosquitoes really do prefer one person’s blood over another’s.  Also, people react differently to bites.  Some may experience mild irritation while others may have allergic reactions resulting in such severe swelling and itching that they require a trip to an emergency room for medicated relief.

While I’ve mostly learned to deal with Bug Season, there is a flying, biting insect that for me personally is worse than blackflies, deerflies, ticks, and mosquitoes combined.  It is the ever-so-tiny midge, also known as a “no-see-um.”

These biting gnats are true to their “no-see-um” nickname.  You will feel a mild sting, but you will almost never see what bit you. Unlike a mosquito bite, which when scratched resembles a big, blobby swelling, the midge bite doesn’t even show up right away.  When it does, it’s just a small red mark.  But the itching!  It can drive one insane.  Unlike the mosquito bite, the itching sensation from a midge can last 3 to 4 weeks.  And often you may have 30 or more tiny bites! (My husband and I seem to be especially attractive and sensitive to midges; other people I’ve spoken with are not nearly as bothered.)

Unfortunately this year, the midges seem to be at their worst ever.  There is simply no escape.  They are so tiny, they come right through the window screens at night.  And due to a heat wave, I haven’t been able to keep my windows closed in the evenings, when it’s so much cooler than daytime and the night air is my only means of lowering the internal temperature in the house.

They are especially attracted to light.  That means that once it gets dark, and I switch on a reading light, my computer, or smart phone, the midges call out to their friends, “FEAST!” and hone in for the attack.  I’m not talking dozens of midges, I’m talking hundreds to thousands.  DEET has no effect, nor does any other repellent I’ve tried, natural or chemical.  Covering one’s body doesn’t help – – midges are masters of getting inside one’s clothing and one’s sheets.  Often the night biting is so bad, I simply cannot go to sleep until sunrise, when they finally venture back outside through the window screens.  We’ve tried keeping the bathroom light on so they’ll be attracted to the bathroom instead of our bedroom.  Every morning I clean thousands of midges from my bathtub and sink (GROSS!), but that doesn’t keep thousands more from our bedroom.  I’ve tried powerful fans blowing air on our bed all night – – to no avail.  I don’t even try to get to sleep without taking Benadryl before bedtime, since the itching drives me mad.  I’ve posted to online forums asking for advice, and no one can be of help.  Apparently it’s just something we’re going to have to wait out.

If I sound desperate, it’s because I am.

In the past few years, I have learned so much by living in Maine.  I have shoveled 5′ of snow from my driveway, I have hiked to the top of a mountain, I have fished, kayaked, grown vegetables, chopped and stacked wood, lived without electricity, been outside in -17 degree weather, survived a car accident that should have killed me and my passengers, and nearly bumped into a bear in the dark.  These things were all bigger than myself, and I went from being very weak and wimpy to the much mentally and physically stronger person that I am today.   And yet, with this tiniest of bugs, I am not only sleep deprived and itchy, I am feeling somewhat defeated right now.

So I must ask myself, what can I learn from these midges from hell?  What is HaShem trying to teach me?

1.  Not every situation is within our control.

2. This too shall pass.

3.  There are so many things to be thankful for. Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude.

4.  We can choose happiness.

5.  Lest we get arrogant and  claim exclusive ownership of our successes, we must remember that there is a Master of the Universe and we are not it!  G-d can humble us not only with gargantuan natural disasters, but if He so wills it, even the minutest object can bring us to our knees.

In the Talmud, there is an account (Gittin 56b) of Titus, the Roman emperor who led the siege of Jerusalem and carried away its spoils.  Known for his arrogance, he seemed unstoppable, especially after the destruction of the Temple.  Titus entered and conquered G-d’s House, so it’s easy to see how he fell into the trap of thinking he was more powerful than G-d Almighty Himself!  Ironically the thing that felled him, in direct relation to Titus’ egomania and arrogance, was the most insignificant and tiniest of creatures.   The Talmud recounts that a tiny insect flew into Titus’ nose and entered his brain.  The sound and sensation of the insect buzzing in his head drove Titus mad.  Once he passed a blacksmith’s shop and noticed that the pounding of the blacksmith’s hammer caused the constant buzzing in his brain to stop.  So he paid the blacksmith to come to his palace and hammer day and night to provide Titus some relief.   Unfortunately for Titus the effect of the blacksmith’s hammering proved to be short-lived, and Titus’ agony increased until he died. Titus, a man who was responsible for the enslavement and death of thousands, who had conquered city upon city and destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem:  yet a mere midge had felled the most powerful leader of that age!