Summer may come with longer days, more beach and pool time, fruity cocktails, and fresh seafood, but it also has its downsides, particularly the host of itchy, red, swollen bug bites the season brings. With Labor Day nearly here, you may be relieved that those mosquito bites and bee stings are behind you, but experts say people in certain states may soon see an increase in itchy blister-causing bites from bugs that fall from treetops called oak mites. While that might sound like something out of a horror movie, it’s actually the result of the Brood X cicadas’ reemergence this summer, an occurrence that only happens once every 17 years. Experts have seen that in states where the Brood X cicadas were plentiful, oak mites are following in their wake. These mites feed on cicada eggs, but when those run out, they go for humans next.
At the end of July and early August, people in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area (which includes D.C. and parts of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia), reported an increase in painful, itchy, blister-causing bug bites. Experts were quick to identify microscopic oak mites as the culprit. The D.C. area saw some of the highest volumes of the periodical cicadas during their most recent reemergence, and experts say the mites have come to town to feast on their eggs.
Gene Kritsky, PhD, the dean of behavioral and natural sciences at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, told The Washington Post that oak mites are likely falling out of oak trees after feeding on cicada eggs then biting humans. “I want to let people know they’re not crazy,” he told the outlet. “It’s a phenomenon related to cicadas being there, and it will dissipate. And eventually, you won’t have it next year because the cicadas will not be emerging.”
According to the Illinois Department of Public Health (DPH), the first confirmed case of oak mites feasting on periodical cicada egg nests was in the Chicago metro area in 2007. An outbreak of itchy bites occurred in the city and its surrounding areas in August and September of that year. The Illinois DPH says another species of mite that’s indistinguishable from the oak mite was commonly found in periodical cicada egg nests in Michigan, Virginia, and Washington D.C. as far back as 1885.
If other states that saw cicadas emerge this year follow the trajectory of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, they’ll begin to notice these nasty bites soon enough, David Price, associate certified entomologist and technical director at Mosquito Joe, a Neighborly company, told Best Life.
Michael Raupp, PhD, a University of Maryland professor of entomology, told Inside Nova that oak mites are “creating a problem that we hadn’t anticipated too much until this point.” He said while the mites are around, you should avoid lingering under trees, wear gloves if you’re handling fallen branches or trees, wear a hat while walking in a forest, and throw your clothes in the dryer on medium temperature if you spend time in the woods.
The experts at the University of Maryland Extension said we likely still have a few more weeks with these oak mites, depending on when the cicadas began to emerge in your area. Cicada eggs take six to 10 weeks to hatch, and the hatch for Brood X in some areas ended at the end of August. Once that food source is gone, the density of oak mites will dissipate.
To see if you live in an area that may experience an uptick in itchy oak mite bites—in addition to what’s already been reported in D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia—read on.
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The biggest cicada problem in Delaware was in New Castle County, though some cropped up in Kent County, too, the Delaware News Journal reports. That means the oak mites could also be an issue in these areas.
According to local news outlet 11 Alive, North Georgia saw the most of Brood X this year, particularly Fannin, Gilmer, Union, Lumpkin, and Towns counties. So people in those areas should particularly heed the oak mite bite warnings.
In Illinois, Brood X cicadas stuck around the central and eastern parts of the state, along the Illinois-Indiana border, NBC 5 Chicago reported. As a result, Clark, Edgar, Crawford, and Vermilion counties should be on the lookout for oak mite bites.
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The majority of Indiana’s Brood X sightings were in the southern part of the state, with the Indianapolis Star reporting that “Bloomington and the surrounding forests” saw the worst of the cicadas, meaning oak mites could soon follow.
The Bluegrass State had its fair share of cicadas in areas near the Ohio River and Jefferson County, including Louisville. According to the Louisville Courier News, entomologists at the University of Kentucky say they’ve already received an increasing number of bug bite and itching complaints in recent weeks.
“I would imagine Louisville being the place this would happen,” Jonathan Larson, assistant professor of extension entomology at the University of Kentucky, said in an email of the oak mite surge. “It was crawling with cicadas!”
Michigan’s Lower Peninsula was most affected by the Brood X cicadas, Michigan State University reports—an indicator oak mite bites may be on the rise there, too.
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Central New Jersey saw the worst of the cicadas’ wrath during the most recent reemergence, with Princeton being the “cicada capital” of the state, according to NJ.com. The insects were also spotted in Hopewell, Clinton Township, Kingwood, and Lambertville, says MyCentralJersey.com.
While there have yet to be reports of an increase of oak mite bites in the Garden State, they could soon start to crop up.
The New York Times reported this summer that though Long Island was once “New York’s last remaining stronghold of Brood X … the population there has declined in recent decades,” so New Yorkers may be safe from oak mite bites.
Cicadas were particularly prominent in Buncombe, Cherokee, Surry and Wilkes counties, Spectrum News 1 reports, which could mean oak mites are bubbling up in these areas of North Carolina, too.
Central Ohio was most affected by the loud sounds of the Brood X cicadas this summer, which started to die out in July, The Columbus Dispatch reports. In 2016, the state had a surge of oak mite bites, but thus far, no similar trend has followed this year.
Ehrlich Pest Control entomologist Chad Gore, PhD, told CBSN Pittsburgh that oak mites are in their reproductive stage right now in Western Pennsylvania, which means they’re not doing you much harm. But by the time the leaves fall from the trees, the outlet says they will be “in abundance.” Gore suggests using a Deet-containing bug spray to discourage oak mites from biting you.
>East Tennessee saw the biggest congregation of Brood X cicadas, The Oak Ridger reports, meaning folks in those areas should be on the lookout for oak mite bites as well.
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