‘They are lurking:’ Annoying, biting pirate bugs are on the prowl in Omaha area

September 11, 2018

The bugs zeroed in on Wayne Riekhof.

He thought he was in for a relaxing afternoon watching his daughter play soccer in Lincoln, but ended up getting bit nearly a dozen times Sunday by a pesky insect called a minute pirate bug.

The bugs become more noticeable in the fall, when they move from woods and farm fields to backyards, parks and other green space in search of food. They were particularly bad last fall in Omaha and elsewhere. The Nebraska Extension in Omaha says the bugs could be bad again this season, partly because they thrive in the persistent heat we had this summer.

“They were all over the place,″ Riekhof said.

Though the bugs are tiny, they pack a painful bite.

Jonathan Larson, an entomologist with Nebraska Extension in Omaha, said harvest sends them looking for new spots. The harvest gets underway in the next few weeks, which is when he’ll have a better idea how bad the bugs will be.

But they are definitely out there harassing people now.

Larson said the bugs do not feed on blood or inject venom or saliva, so they do not pose a health risk to humans or animals. Some people have no reaction to the bite, but for some individuals, the bite site swells or turns red. Cortisone cream is a good treatment, just as it is for other bug bites.

Wearing long sleeves and pants instead of shorts offers protection. And it’s best to wear dark clothes and avoid whites and yellows in particular, because they make you look like a flower.

Insect repellents are of little use with these guys. But baby oil is worth trying.

Larson said minute pirate bugs get their name from their small size — they are less than one-eighth of an inch long — and because they are a predator insect.

“They are lurking,” he said.

Jody Green of Nebraska Extension in Lincoln said even though the bugs are annoying to humans, they are beneficial. They feed on aphids and other insects that can damage crops and plants.

Green said the bugs become less active as temperatures cool down and the first frost arrives later this fall.

Until then?

Prepare to swat.

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