While the eardrum-breaking sound of the Brood X cicadas have left the D.C. area, scientists are now explaining how the insects are causing another problem that has been a frustrating summer mystery for many unsuspecting people.
It’s believed the cicadas, which have laid billions of eggs across the area, are serving as a feast for oak leaf itch mites.
In turn, the microscopic organisms are dropping out of oak trees while feeding, landing on people walking by, and then biting their human victims several times over with a lasting itchy impact.
“These mites are creating a problem that we hadn’t anticipated too much until this point,” said Michael Raupp, a University of Maryland professor of entomology.
Raupp said the mites are likely leading to welts on the neck, shoulder and exposed arms on the upper part of the body.
Some residents in Arlington, Virginia, were so bothered by the itchy welts, ARLNow reported people formed a Facebook group for those with similar bites to find out the source.
Raupp said the bites can hang around for several days, and he advised people not to scratch them to prevent a secondary infection.
So how can people prevent these critters from eating them alive, so to speak?
“Avoid picnics under the trees at this point in time,” Raupp said. “If you’re picking up leaves that have fallen, you might want to wear gloves. Some people are recommending putting on a hat if you’re walking in the forest.”
For those venturing through forests, Raupp also recommended throwing clothes into the dryer on medium heat to kill any potential mites that came through the door, and to take a shower to dislodge any mites that might be feeding on the skin.
“These particular welts of the itch mite can be very annoying,” Raupp said.
Experts said the mite bites aren’t much to worry about, but see a doctor if you think you’re having a severe reaction.
WTOP’s Lauren Hamilton contributed to this story.