The Washington, D.C., region is no longer a primary home to cicadas, but now it's been introduced to a new insect that is just as annoying. These don’t rattle and shriek. They bite.
Residents across the region have noticed unfamiliar bites that cause painful itching, welts and concern. The oak leaf itch mites, known as Pyemotes, which are causing the bites, typically feed off larvae on oak leaves, according to research from Kansas State University.
Gene Kritsky, the dean of behavioral and natural sciences at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, told The Washington Post the mites are feeding on the cicada eggs that were laid across D.C. during the surge of Brood X cicadas this summer.
“I want to let people know they’re not crazy,” Kritsky said. “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.”
Residents of Arlington County posted to a community Facebook group called “Arlington Neighbors Helping Each Other Through COVID-19” to share their confusion. Some received antibiotics and anti-itch creams, while others called exterminators or rode it out with home remedies. Many shared that even a trip to urgent care resulted in more questions.
The bite of a mite creates a red welt that looks like a chigger bite, typically on the upper body, and will develop a large red circle around it, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health Prevention and Control. The bites will be present for about two weeks, the department said.
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The reason the bites mainly show up on the upper body is that the mites tend to fall from oak trees with cicada nests, according to the department.
The news of the bug bites is still relatively new, even to health officials. In a news conference Thursday, D.C. Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt and other government officials on the panel were unfamiliar with the bites.
Arlington County officials are currently investigating the bites as they have not been present in the region before, Kurt Larrick, the assistant director of the county’s Department of Human Services, told the Post.
“We don’t have a definitive diagnosis at this point, but from what we’re seeing, the smart money might be on something called Pyemotes, which is a type of oak leaf itch mite,” Larrick said. “They feed on cicada eggs, so they probably have a lot of stuff to eat right about now.”