Thursday, February 19, 2015

Punkies NOT Parasitosis

A client came in to me with a dilemma, some sort of insect, she feels, bit her while she slept. It turns out this insect was a ‘punkie’, a type of biting sand fly that under certain conditions can swarm and enter houses.

The client came in about two weeks ago and complained about unseen insects biting her. I get at least one client a year with a syndrome called “delusionary parasitosis”, an organic malady that causes them to believe that insects they cannot see are borrowing into their skin, laying eggs, and hatching out of their bodies. Interestingly all of the people I’ve encountered with this seem perfectly normal in all other aspects. She showed me some red marks that couldhave been bites or rashes raised from incessant itching. She brought in some particles she found in her bed that turned out to be pieces of skin probably scratched off of her during when she was itching the irritations. After I told her the identity of the pieces she swore they must have been insects that were biting her. She observed that the bites were occurring along her waist and near her ankles and hands, areas where her pajamas allowed access to her skin. I told there wasn’t much I could do unless she could find the insect that was causing the problem. If she had delusionary parasitosis this would be an impossible task so I didn't expect to see her again concerning this matter.

Then about two days ago she returned with a bag containing what appeared to be black flecks. She said she had found them in the bottom of the light cover on the ceiling light of her bedroom. “Oh jeez” I thought to myself “another bag of itched-off skin.” I took the bag and put it under my stereoscopic magnifier. What I saw surprised me.

The bag was actually full of insects, insects that looked like this:

The insect looked like a mosquito without the long beak. I looked up insects related to flies and mosquitos (the order Diptera) in my trusty “Insects of the Los Angeles Basin” and l found one that matched – Genus Leptoconops. These are commonly called ‘punkies’ or ‘no-see-ums’. They are blood feeders and are notorious for biting people and causing a red, itchy spot that, upon further itching, can develop into a rash.

On further questioning of the Client I learned she lived in an area that was near the L.A. River. Species this genus have been noted in the Santa Ana River, and recent restoration of the riparian habitat of the L.A. river might have led to the repopulation of this species there. Also, conditions were right for swarming and biting. Research on a similar midge native to the Salt Lake Utah area has indicated that “the number of biting flies was greatest during warmer, less windy, sunnier periods” after rain. The nice weather that we’ve just experienced after our recent rains matches these conditions.

So the mystery was solved. What about control? The best thing to do is to keep the insects out of the house. They are small, from 1-3 millimeters, so you need a screen that is correspondingly small and to check the house for any cracks where they can enter and… do not leave your door open when they are active, usually from three to 12 days after a rain. What about repellents? Most repellents don’t work very well, protecting only about 50% or less of the people who use them.

Punkie Links:

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