Now You See-Um, Now You Don’t

We had a great impromptu ride out to the lovely island of Sanibel this morning which, by all accounts was picture perfect except for one small thing, and no it wasn’t Joel doing another Flop of Disgrace…sorry Joel, no flop goes without notice, even in my absence…particularly repeated flops on the same ride, it was those extremely annoying, nearly invisible blood suckers known as Ceratopogonidae, or as we like to call them, “No-See-Ums”, which feasted on us as we took our mid ride refueling break.

Sanibel and Captiva have a long history with these little creatures which seek you out and mercilessly make a quick meal of you. Florida alone has over 47 different species of these evil two winged, mini-demons. Since their behavior, size and feeding habits are very similar, knowing exactly which species is feasting on you is all but impossible. No-see-ums are the smallest blood-sucking insects on earth and, like the mosquito, only the females bite. Luckily the amount of blood no-see-ums take is insignificant, but many people have an allergic reaction to these bites which can leave painful itchy welts on you lasting days. The good news is, over a prolonged period of time, which of course means you being the main course…repeatedly, your bodies immune system builds a tolerance to these bites, eliminating the painful welts and itchiness…little comfort to the vacationer or passing cyclist on the island.

Due to their varied habitats and short lifespans, Lee County Mosquito Control, or their counterparts in all six SW Florida counties, is unable to offer any kind of control for these blood suckers. Controlling no-see-ums on a county-wide scale would require almost daily spraying, which would severely damage the environment, so our only course of protection from these bugs is a good defense.

There are several preventative measures to avoid getting bit in the first place. The first is to cover up. Wearing long sleeves, long pants, gloves, shoes and socks pretty much guarantees you will not be bit…unfortunately you’d look like quite the tool strolling along the beaches and boulevards of Sanibel and Captiva, that is if you don’t die of heat stroke first. Deet, an insect repellent, in a concentration of 30% or more is an effective countermeasure, as well as the famous Skin So Soft (curious that one repellent was developed by the US Army for jungle warfare, while the other is a beauty product developed by Avon for  “urban warfare of a different kind”)

Regardless which you choose to use, be very careful not to mix sun screen and DEET together as it both increases the absorption of the DEET into your bloodstream…never a good thing as I once recall DEET on my fingertips dissolving the enamel off a pencil while working on my college thesis down in the island of San Salvador…and it breaks down the protective ingredients of your sun screen, rendering it ineffective.

If your organically inclined, or don’t like to use strong chemicals in general, you can try using oil of lemon eucalyptus. The CDC claims it’s nearly as effective as DEET, and it won’t eat off pencil enamel! Of all these preventative measures, the single most effective is the wind. A ceiling fan, small house fan or an afternoon breeze is more than capable of keeping the ravenous buggers at bay. They are so tiny that almost any breeze, natural or otherwise, keeps them from getting aloft. I guess that means we have to employ rolling ride breaks!

If you are bitten…and you will be, as we were bitten repeatedly today, there are many remedies including various patches, sprays and gels including Ibruprofen Gel, Hydrocortisone Cream and Xylocaine Gel. In my case, I found a little cold water sprayed on the legs plus focusing on climbing back over the causeway bridge to be an effective way to cure the itch…or at least get my mind off it.

Luckily, there are many other insects, good or otherwise, that feed on the tiny no-see-ums and their larvae and – although troublesome – the local no-see-ums do not carry some of the diseases found in flying midges in other tropical regions. So there is no danger of turning into a giant demonic blood sucking mutant fly doomed to terrorize coastal Florida wetlands…oh wait, that was a movie from last night…I ment acquiring a serious skin infection called leishmaniasism, which coincidentally turns you into a giant demonic blood sucking mutant fly doomed to terrorize coastal Florida wetlands.

Though relatively harmless, that is until they swarm you on a mid ride break while trying to have a glazed donut and a coke (yeah yeah, not healthy, but it hit the spot), we are unfortunately stuck having to contend with these pests forever.

Route: Sanibel Loop
Ride Time: 3:38:08
Stopped Time: 40:54
Distance: 61.34 miles
Average: 16.87 mph
Fastest Speed: 31.35 mph
Ascent: 468 feet
Descent: 442 feet
Calories: 3280

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