Entomology (Study of Bugs)/Biting Insect?


I get red, itchy bumps on my skin when I spend the night at a certain family memberís house during the summer. I usually find 2-4 new bumps per day, usually on my lower legs. Sometimes there are two bumps right next to each other. This happens when I visit during the summer, but not when I visit during the winter, when the house gets very cold at night. Last summer, I continued to get new bumps on my skin for a few days after I returned home, but it stopped after I did a lot of laundry and vacuuming.

My family member's house has a lot of clutter and consequently some parts of it are not cleaned regularly. There is also a dog, but it does not scratch and is only allowed in the basement, where I rarely go. I have seen very tiny light brown bugs in dusty areas of the house where there are a lot of papers, and I once saw a very tiny gray bug, which jumped when I tried to kill it, in the bathroom.  However, from what I have read myself, I do not think either of these are biting insects.

I have pretty much ruled out the possibility of bed bugs because washing the bedding, encasing the mattress, and putting insect interceptors under the legs of the bed where I sleep did not help. It seems that fleas might be another possibility, but it seems unlikely given that the dog does not scratch and is rarely around.  The strangest thing is that no one who lives in the house has this problem, only me when I visit.

My family member thinks this problem is psychosomatic because no one else in the house ever gets these symptoms. However, I never have had this problem visiting any other place or even this place in the winter, and I generally consider myself to be in good mental health.

I realize that you cannot identify a particular insect for sure with no picture, but I was wondering if there is ANY insect that could be causing what I describe.  Is it possible that I am allergic to the insect and my family members are not?

Thank you.

Dear Ann - First off, my apologies for the delay in responding; I simply got distracted by other tasks yesterday, and when I tried to get around to it last night, the computer modem decided to take a vacation...
 All that aside, the only insect that I can think of that could be responsible would be some sort of biting fly (mosquitoes, ceratopogonid gnats, etc.), but if that were the case, I find it odd that no others in the house would be affected. It is true that people differ in their sensitivity/reaction to these bites as well as in their relative 'attractiveness' to those insects - for example, our oldest son seems to be a virtual mosquito magnet! The bottom line is that as you likely already suspect, you really won't know for certain unless you actually catch/see something in the act of biting.

Hope this helps,

Entomology (Study of Bugs)

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Ed Saugstad


Will accept most questions in general entomology, including those related to medical entomology, taxonomy, ecology, arthropod surveillance, and pest management. If you are requesting a 'mystery bug' identification, PLEASE either attach an image to your question, or post an image on a web page (such as Flickr) so that I can look at it, as verbal descriptions frequently are insufficient for a definitive identification.


21 years in the U.S. Army as a medical entomologist; duties varied from surveillance of pest populations (including mosquitoes, cockroaches, ticks, and stored products pests) to conducting research on mosquito-virus ecological relationships and mosquito faunal studies. Ten years as a civilian analyst for the Department of Defense, primarily on distribution of vector-borne diseases worldwide. Limited experience on surveillance of agricultural insects in North Dakota and Indiana.

Entomological Society of America, West Virginia Entomological Society, Society for Vector Ecology, National Speleological Society, West Virginia Association for Cave Studies.

American Journal of Public Health, Contributions of the American Entomological Institute, Japanese Journal of Sanitary Zoology, Journal of Economic Entomology, Mosquito News, and Mosquito Systematics.

B.S. in entomology from North Dakota State University in 1963, M.S. in entomology from Purdue University in 1967.

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