What’s going on with the bugs at Burning Man?

A couple days ago, we got a tweet about some bugs which were swarming in Nevada. I didn’t realize that it would become a national story at the time, but now they’re swarming all over people, biting everyone and just making this normally fun festival a rather unpleasant experience.

Friend of the blog Doug Yanega gave an interview with NPR about these bugs, and Gwen Pearson has written about them as well.

There’s a couple different insects involved with this swarm. Those big, green stink bugs are probably a Nezara viridula. The two smaller ones are a Lygaeid, Nysius and another Mirid whose identify is uncertian.

Some of these insects feed on mustard plants, and keep the compounds in their bodies to remain distasteful to predators. So if you crush them, it’s basically like caking yourself in pure wasabi. In high concentrations, those chemicals can make for some pretty nasty burns.

Those Mirids, however, are probably biting people. Mirids aren’t particularly bright insects, and will probe whatever they land on to try and see if they can eat it. I’m working with another closely related bug in this family, Lygus, and I have to be really careful not to let too many of them escape to avoid being bitten.

It’s important to note that they don’t feed on people, although they may supplement their diet with other insects very occasionally. They don’t spread disease, either. Unfortunately, beyond insect repellent (which might not work), there’s not too much that can be done to avoid bites.

This is sort of a freak situation, the right conditions which bred bugs at a time which just so happened to coincide with a large group of people.

So it’s a rather interesting insect-related thing which will probably be over as soon as the insects move on to another food source.

This entry was posted in Culture, News, Pest Management, Taxonomy. Bookmark the permalink.

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