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Arthropoda: Diptera






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[See: <Ceratopogonidae Key>]


Ceratopogonidae (Heleidae). -- <Habits>; <Adults> & <Juveniles> -- The biting midges, punkies and no-see-ums are biting flies, with the Genera Culicoides and Leptoconops being especially problematic. Most species are very small and stout, with rather broad wings that they hold flat over their abdomen when resting. They are very pestiferous due to their habits of sucking blood from animals including other insects. The bites often result in painful swellings. Some species may be recognized by their spotted wings.


Over 5,500 species of biting midges in 104 genera are known, but Service (2008) noted that only four genera feed on vertebrates. Most important of these are Leptoconops and Culicoides. Males with feathery antennae do not feed on blood, while the females with straight antennae do take blood meals.


The primary habitat is along the seacoast and the shores of lakes and rivers. The larvae are aquatic or semiaquatic in the sand, decaying vegetation or mud and in tree holes containing water. Breeding along the seacoast is possible in the intertidal zone. Their habit of remaining close to the larval developmental sites allows one to simply move a short distance away to avoid being attacked.




Adults are the common biting midges, no-see-ums, midgies, sand flies, punkies, which feed on warm-blooded animals and humans. They are parasitic on other insects. They feed on body fluids of the host insect but do not cause its death. Several species of Forcipomyia and Lasiohelea have been observed on the wings of Tipulidae, and Phasmidohelea spp. from the bodies of Phasmidae. Pterobosca sp. and Forcipomyia sp. have been found to feed at the wings of dragonflies. A few species of the latter are known to attack caterpillars. As many as 9 adults of Atrichopogon melosugans Kieff. were observed feeding through the intersegmental membranes of adult Meloe sp. beetles in England and Algeria (Blair 1937). They are believed to feed mainly on the newly hatched larvae of Culicidae, Trichoptera and Chironomidae.


This is a family of small flies (14 mm long) in the order Diptera. They are closely related to the Chironomidae, Simuliidae (or black flies), and Thaumaleidae.


Ceratopogonids are found in almost any aquatic or semiaquatic habitat throughout the world. Females of most species are adapted to suck blood from some kind of host animal. Culicoides, Forcipomyia (Lasiohelea), and Leptoconops suck vertebrate blood. Some Atrichopogon and Forcipomyia are ectoparasites on larger insects. Dasyhelea feed exclusively on nectar. Species in other genera are predatory on other small insects.


Oviposition that varies with the species occurs in batches of 30-350 on mud and wet soil near marshland or other aquatic habitats and on decaying organic matter (Service 2008). Larvae are always found in some damp location, such as under bark, in rotten wood, compost, mud, stream margins, tree holes, or water-holding plants (i.e., phytotelmata). The larvae feed on decaying organic matter and can complete their development in less than a week. The pupal stage remains for just a few days also.




Many of the hematophagic (blood-eating) species are pests in beach or mountain habitats. Some other species are important pollinators of tropical crops such as cacao. The blood-sucking species may be vectors of disease-causing viruses, protozoa, and filarial worms. The bite of midges in the genus Culicoides causes an allergic response in equines known as sweet itch. In humans, their bite can cause intensely itchy, red welts that can persist for more than a week. The discomfort arises from a localized allergic reaction to the proteins in their saliva, which can be somewhat alleviated by topical antihistamines.


In Africa Culicoides milnei, C. austeni and C. grahamii vector filarial worms Mansonella perstans and other species of this genus. Culicoides furens vectors Mansonella ozzardi in the Americas. Among the Leptoconops only a few are vectors of disease but all are ferocious biters. In South America a few species are vectors of arboviruses.


Some members of the family are small enough to pass through the apertures in typical window screens. Camping tents are often equipped with extra-fine mesh netting, called no-see-um nets, to keep the pests out.




Control of these tiny flies is difficult, with repellents being the only practical procedure. Destruction of their breeding sites is too expensive and spraying with insecticides not very effective. Again because of the resistance problem, the use of insecticides is not a long term effective procedure. In California applying urea to the breeding habitat of Leptoconops foulki and L. kertezi did not give adequate control (71. ), but natural enemy activity was significant and its disturbance with chemical spraying may give rise to increased midge densities (192. ).


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Key References: <medvet.ref.htm> <Hexapoda> [Additional references may be found at: MELVYL Library ]


Blanton, F. S. & W. W. Wirth. 1979. The sand flies (Culicoides) of Florida (Ceratopogonidae). Arthropods of Florida and Neighboring

Land Areas Volume 10. Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Borkent, A. & W. W. Wirth. 1997. World species of biting midges (Diptera: Ceratopogonidae). Bull. American Museum of Natural History


Clastrier, J. & W. W. Wirth. 1978. The Leptoconops kerteszi complex in North America (Diptera: Ceratopogonidae). United States

Department of Agriculture Technical Bulletin Number 1573

Downes, J. A. & W. W. Wirth. 1981. Chapter 28: Ceratopogonidae. Pp. 393421. In: McAlpine, J.F., B.V. Peterson, G.E. Shewell, H.J. Teskey,

J.R. Vockeroth, and D.M. Wood. Manual of Nearctic Diptera, Volume 1. Agriculture Canada Monograph 27.

Hendry, G. 2003. Midges in Scotland 4th Edition, Mercat Press, Edinburgh.

Jobling, B. 1928. The structure of the head and the mouth parts of Culicoides pulicaris L. Bull. Ent. Res. 18: 211-36

Kettle, D. S. 1965. Biting certatopogonids as vectors of human and animal diseases. Acta Trop. 22: 356-62.

Kettle, D. S. 1969. The ecology and control of blood-sucking ceratopogonids. Ann. Rev. Ent. 22: 33-51.

Legner, E. F. 1995. Biological control of Diptera of medical and veterinary importance. J. Vector Ecology 20(1): 59-120.

Legner, E. F.. 2000. Biological control of aquatic Diptera. p. 847-870. Contributions to a Manual of Palaearctic Diptera, Vol. 1, Science

Herald, Budapest. 978 p

Legner, E. F., R. D. Sjogren & J. T. Wiles. 1970. Effects of low biuret urea on natural populations of Hippelates collusor (Townsend) and

Leptoconops kerteszi (Kieffer). J. Amer. Mosq. Contr. Assoc. 30(4): 634-640. 71.

Legner, E. F., R. D. Sjogren & L. L. Luna. 1980. Arthropod fauna cohabiting larval breeding sites of Leptoconops foulki Clastrier & Wirth

in the Santa Ana River, California. J. Amer. Mosq. Contr. Assoc. 40(1): 46-54. 192.

Linley, J. R., A. L. Hoch & F. P. Pinheiro. 1983. Biting midges (Diptera: Ceratopogonidae) and human health. J. Med. Ent. 20: 347-64.

Mullen, G. R. and L.J. Hribar. 1988. Biology and feeding behavior of ceratopogonid larvae (Diptera: Ceratopogonidae) in North America.

Bulletin of the Society for Vector Ecology 13: 6081.

Mullens, B. A. and R. K. Velten. 1994. Rearing Culicoides variipennis (Diptera: Ceratopogonidae) on agar and nematodes. J. Med. Ent. 31:


Mullens, B. A. and R. K. Velten. 1994. Laboratory culture and life history of Heleidomermis magnapapula in its host, Culicoides variipennis

(Diptera: Ceratopogonidae). J. Nematol. 26: 1-10.

Matheson, R. 1950. Medical Entomology. Comstock Publ. Co, Inc. 610 p.

Paine, E. O. and B. A. Mullens. 1994. Distribution, seasonal occurrence, and patterns of parasitism of Heleidomermis magnapapula (Nematoda:

Mermithidae), a parasite of Culicoides variipennis (Diptera: Ceratopogonidae) in California. Environ. Entomol. 23: 154-160.

Service, M. 2008. Medical Entomology For Students. Cambridge Univ. Press. 289 p

Wirth, W. W. & F. S. Blanton. 1974. The West Indian sandflies of the genus Culicoides (Diptera: Ceratopogonidae). United States Department

of Agriculture Technical Bulletin Number 1474.

Wirth, W. W. & W. L. Grogan, Jr. 1988. The Predaceous Midges of the World (Diptera: Ceratopogonidae; Tribe Ceratopogonini).

Flora and Fauna Handbook Number 4. E.J. Brill Publishers, Leiden. xv + 160 pp.




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