Friday, March 09, 2007

No-See-Ums (hequenes) in Mexico

August 4, 2001
by Kate Nelson
Scripps Howard News Service

How do I know it's summer? Let me count the welts.

Up and down my arms. Around my ankles. Along my hairline. In a particularly difficult-to-scratch point on my back. And clustered around my belly button.

The "no-see-ums" are at it again. This year's twist was the bite that caused my left forearm to swell up for one day before festering into quarter-sized blisters. Lovely.

The itching sensation of each no-see-um bite can last for a week, and fighting the urge to scratch can turn your brain into a searing mass of agony. You will lose sleep. You will snap at co-workers. You will develop scars that can last for months.

Biting midges of barely discernible heft wreak this havoc all across the Southwest. Dubbed "no-see-ums" in some areas, they're called "hequenes" in Mexico and punkies in Britain. The females, seeking blood to complete their reproductive cycle, feed on pets, birds and, tragically, gardeners.

No-see-ums thrive in coastal areas, so beware if you're a besieged gardener who dreams of getting away from the bugs by snorkeling in the tropics. Yet despite their coastal leanings, they've also learned to like canyons and the shifty topsoil of the desert. In the booming cities of the West, that means they get the best of both worlds: shifty topsoil and lots of blood to suck.

A survival guide:

Kill and repel them:
Hummingbirds can eat hundreds of no-see-ums a day, so hang a few feeders near the nasties' hangouts.

Consider getting a B12 injection to alter the flavor of your blood. Adding brewer's yeast to your diet can accomplish a similar effect. Burn citronella candles or incense. Buy a variety of aromatic oils and lotions to slather on your skin. Among them: Avon Skin-So-Soft; the essential oils of tea tree, lavender or pennyroyal; and a pungent concoction called Buzz Away, containing cedarwood, eucalyptus, lemongrass and peppermint oils, available at health-food stores in wipes, sprays and skin patches. (Smith & Hawken sells a similar mix of eucalyptus, rosemary, bay and olive oils called Bug Off.)

Be aware that some commercial repellents feature the chemicals Deet or Permethrin, which carry health risks for children. And pregnant women should never use pennyroyal.

Some American Indians recommend smearing yourself with bear grease. Navajos fill a tin can with sheep dung, set it on fire and stand in the smoke. Hey, if the biting gets bad enough, give it a whirl.


Treat the wounds:
Stock up on one or all of these: Calamine lotion, Benadryl, creams that contain cortisone or menthol, Anbesol gum-pain reliever, Chloraseptic throat soother, a pocket clip called After-Bite, and an herbal extract called Itch-Away that contains the leaves of grindelia flower, plantain and witch hazel.

I've heard that Old Spice stick deodorant can ease the pain, as can a paste made from meat tenderizer. And never underestimate the power of ice packs and a bottle of your favorite liquor.


Be patient:
No-see-ums are indulging in a breeding frenzy right now. Soon, they'll die off or at least thin out. Afterward, you'll still be here, welts and all.

(Kate Nelson is a master gardener in Albuquerque, N.M. Send e-mail to knelson@abqtrib.com.)


Biting midges, Culicoides furens (Poey), are also known as "no-see-ums" in the U.S., "hequenes" in Mexico, and "punkies" in Britain.






Buzz Away, which contains cedarwood, eucalyptus, lemongrass and peppermint oils, is effective against midges.

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