Our endless battle with no-see-ums

Culicoides furens, or no-see-ums, is a major pest species in the salt marshes of South Carolina.

They're back.

The many blessings of warm weather in South Carolina are concurrently cursed by the tiniest of insects known by locals as no-see-ums.

Officially, they are biting midges. Even more officially, they are of the genus Culicoides, which I believe is Latin for nasty little boogers that irritate the hell out of you.

If you've been outside in the last few weeks you've noticed them, suddenly swarming around your ankles and burrowing into your scalp.

They get their colloquial name from the fact that they are so small you can hardly see them. By the time you notice the pin point pests on your arms or legs, it's already too late.

You slap, you scratch, you rub, you run to get away, but they always seem to find you no matter what you do.

And we've tried everything.

'Flying teeth'

Personally, I've battled the little beasts by slathering a product called Skin-So-Soft on my exposed parts, but they still come.

I've rubbed Bounce dryer sheets on my body and smelled like a laundromat, and I can hear them laughing.

I've even used DEET, a proven repellent, and they sneer at me as they find that place between my shoulder blades that I can never quite reach.

Dr. Brian Scholtens, a professor of biology at the College of Charleston, calls them "flying teeth," and for good reason.

"Only the females bite," he said. "They need the protein from your blood to feed and raise the next generation of no-see-ums. They literally have mandibles that take a chunk out of your skin and suck your blood."

Scholtens said no-see-ums are abundant on the coast because they love our wetlands habitat. They breed in coastal marshes, swamps, backyards and tree holes, anywhere there is moisture.

Dawn and dusk

Almost invisible, no-see-ums appear at dawn and dusk and have a 4- to 6-week life cycle, which is good news. Unfortunately, they are continuous breeders, even during the winter months.

"They don't die off," Scholtens said. "They just slow down their cycle and hang out in other life stages, like eggs and larvae, until it gets wet again."

So what can you do about them?

"Biting midges here would be considered a nuisance because they don't carry disease," Scholtens said. "So it's hard to justify a lot of monetary expense for a nuisance."

That, of course, doesn't keep us from installing expensive systems to combat the seasonal onslaught that often ruins our outdoor parties.

But it's a losing battle, according to Scholtens.

"No-see-ums are extremely temperature- and wind-dependent," he said. "The best defense is a good breeze. Still, the young ones are constantly emerging."