biting midges symptoms


Insect bites of any kind are undoubtedly bothersome. Often, exposure to biting pests results in a variety of reactions ranging from bumps, rashes, welts, and wheals, to inflammation and blisters, all of which cause itchiness, pain, and general discomfort. To remedy these issues—whether in terms of avoiding getting the same bites in the future or alleviating the irritation—it is essential to first identify exactly what insect the bites are from. 

With over 5,600 species that can be found nearly everywhere in the world, biting midges (Ceratopogonidae) are a common culprit. Biting midges rely on blood meals for reproduction, with females seeking out vertebrates to prey on to produce viable eggs. While amphibians, reptiles, and birds all serve as sources for these blood meals, large mammals remain primary hosts, making humans a typical target. 

Despite the prevalence of no-see-ums (as they are also called), not many people are familiar with biting midges symptoms nor are able to distinguish these flies’ bites from other insects’. This impedes proper treatment, as well as gets in the way of choosing the appropriate preventive measures.  

Hopefully, this article will help arm you with useful knowledge on common biting midges symptoms. 


One of the first biting midges symptoms you are likely to encounter is pain. Despite their miniature size, no-see-ums can cause sharp, even burning pain upon biting. This is due to their well-developed mouthparts, which are composed mainly of four blade-like structures. These structures have been observed by scientists to work in a scissor- or saw-like motion to cut through their prey’s skin. Some species of biting midges are barely visible to the naked eye though, leading some people to describe getting swarmed and bitten as being pricked everywhere by the air itself. It is common to feel localized stinging after a midge biting session. 

The next biting midges symptom is the distinct appearance of the bites themselves. To thin the blood and make it easier to suck and digest, female no-see-ums inject anticoagulant substances into the skin via saliva, resulting in visible bites.  

These bites begin as small, excruciatingly itchy, red dots. Within hours, these commonly expand a bit into pancake-shaped wheals, still with the tiny red dot in its center. In some cases, fluid-filled blisters may also develop. Over time, the bites turn into generally round spots 1-2 inches in diameter that then remain for around 2 weeks.  

As for discomfort after being bitten, this can last a few minutes, and sometimes a few hours. Individuals showing symptoms of hypersensitivity may undergo brutal discomfort for up to 3 days. Bites from a close relative in the biting midge family, Leptoconops, may cause terrible blisters and serum-like oozes at the affected area. Hence, the genus of biting midge at play is a strong determinator of the symptoms shown. 


Midge bites can be difficult to discern from those caused by other insects, especially at the onset. Knowing what to look for can help distinguish if what you are experiencing are symptoms associated with biting midges. 

Biting midges are often mistaken for mosquitoes, and vice versa. Belonging to the same order (Diptera), these two insects’ bites are also mixed up all the time. However, several distinctions can be key in differentiating between the two. 

Similar to no-see-ums, mosquitoes require blood meals for reproduction. However, unlike biting midges, they do not have mouthparts for creating lesions or incisions. In place of midges’ blade-like structures, mosquitoes have long, tubular proboscis for piercing skin.  

Right off the bat, the structural difference discussed above results in dissimilarity between the sensations of getting bitten by these respective flying insects. While there are some occasions when mosquito bites can be felt while they are happening, more often than not, their stings can largely go unnoticed at least until the itch sets in. On the other hand, as mentioned above, getting bitten by midges is rather painful, with some people going as far as to describe the instantaneous pain “searing.” 

The disparity in mouthparts also results in a difference in appearance between midge and mosquito bites. In many ways, mosquito bites tend to be less severe than those of midges. Compared to midges’ tiny red dots, mosquito bites are almost immediately raised and puffy. Still, these remain significantly flatter and paler or less red over the course of their presence. 

Monitoring how these bites change over time is also important in identifying biting midges symptoms. Because of their biting mechanism, midges cause more damage to the skin, causing bites to last for weeks.  In contrast, when left untouched or unscratched, mosquito bites quickly flatten (often within minutes) and completely disappear within a day or two.  

Also, unlike no-see-ums’ bites, very rarely do mosquito bites blister or get more inflamed later on. 

As midges crawl as they feed, another telltale sign of their bites is that they normally appear in clusters of 2-3 round spots, while those of mosquitoes occur more isolated from each other. 

Although they are actually minuscule crustaceans, another creature whose bites are often confused with midges’ are sand fleas. Not only do their bites look nearly identical but the two also share certain habitats such as coastal areas and beaches. Perhaps the most prominent difference is the fact that because they are not capable of flight, sand fleas bite mostly around the feet, ankles, and calves. It can be helpful to keep in mind that for bites on other parts of the body, you would have had to come in closer contact with the sand or ground. 


The biting midges symptoms discussed above are the most common reactions that normally occur in most people. However, for some, midge bites can lead to more serious effects. 

Be sure to consult a doctor immediately if you experience allergic reactions such as difficulty breathing or swallowing, wheezing and excessive rashes, pain, or swelling. Also, seek medical assistance if the lesions worsen over time instead of getting better, or if you observe signs of infection such as fever, headaches, swollen glands, or nausea. 


As some say, you cannot solve issues without first truly understanding them. Being able to identify biting midge symptoms can be an important step towards arriving at a suitable, effective remedy. 






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