Organisers on the “playa,” as the area is called, wrote an ominous blog post about the bugs and have been tweeting frightening photos, warning festival-goers to be prepared for them to “get up and in you.”
— Champagne Lounge (@CLoungebrc) August 18, 2015
So what exactly are the creepy crawly bugs that have tech elite heading to Burning Man in a tizzy?
Gizmodo talked to entomologist and insect photographer Alex Wild, who identified the bugs based on photos and descriptions from people currently on the Burning Man site who said the bugs bite, swarm together, and have a very strong aroma.
According to Wild, we’re dealing with two different kinds of bugs here.
The first is a scary looking large green bug. Gizmodo writes:
According to Wild, the big green bugs you see above are probably stink bugs in the family Pentatomidae. These bugs are very common in the US, and emit a strong odor when disturbed. Some people compare the smell to coriander. These insects are also attracted to light, which is bad news for a festival that is famous for its amazing light displays.
— Nine News LA (@9NewsLA) August 21, 2015
The second is a smaller bug that appears in swarms.
According to the Burning Man blog, “if you pick up some wood, you’re likely to uncover hundreds or thousands of the things.”
Gizmodo notes that “these are most likely Nysius, or seed bugs”:
Another entomologist, Karl Magnacca of the University of Hawaii, thinks there are actually two other species here along with Nysius, one of which is probably in the family Miridae. These guys also release a terrible smell, and they like to poke their probiscises into people’s skin. Which hurts. But they’re actually not attacking — a probiscis is more like a long, hollow tongue. These are desert bugs, and they look for water everywhere, including in your skin.
While the Burning Man playa is usually free of most bugs to the dry, hot desert conditions, Wild tells Gizmodo that there may be a reason for this year’s infestation: “Desert species are prone to boom/bust cycles. [They] may just be passing through.”
The infestation was first reported by John Curley on Tuesday on the Burning Man blog:
You may have seen the bug rumours on the internet. We are here to tell you that they are all true. Well maybe not all of the rumours, but the bugs are real. They’re everywhere. They bite. They crawl all over you. They get up and in you…
What’s going on? We don’t know. We don’t know how the little critters survive in the heat and the sun. All we know is that if you pick up some wood, you’re likely to uncover hundreds or thousands of the things. They have blown up inches deep against the sides of the Commissary tent. They have covered the carpets at the Depot. They’re all over the Man Base. So it’s not a localised occurrence. It’s everywhere.
We don’t know where they came from, but there are two main theories: One is that all the spring and summer rain has hatched critters that lie dormant, or usually come to life at a different time of year. Or maybe they hitchhiked in on a load of wood from somewhere. Or maybe, as Shade postulated out at Man Base, there’s a Johnny Bugseed making the rounds at night, sprinkling them anywhere and everywhere.
After their initial post freaked out festival-goers, Burning Man organisers are now trying to do damage control.
In a new post on Thursday, organisers wrote that “despite the rampant rumours, these bugs are more of a mild nuisance than a full-blown infestation that should cause any major concern.”
…So are there bugs in Black Rock City? Yes. Due to unseasonably wet weather, the grass on the hills is unusually verdant, and that’s resulted in more bugs showing up in the desert than usual. There are green beetles called stink bugs (so-called because they emit a coriander-like odor when disturbed), mosquitos, and gnat-like seed bugs called Nysius. One entomologist reports that they might be causing skin irritations not because they’re biting, but because they have likely been eating mustard seed, which has been proliferating in the region recently, and the mustard oil irritates the skin when the bugs are smashed…
We’re hoping that continuing hot weather and a huge swarm of Burners descending upon their Black Rock Desert home sends them packing before long…
— Burning Man (@burningman) August 20, 2015
But it appears the bugs may actually be dying down.
“The people out there said that the numbers seem to be going down,” Nevada Department of Agriculture state entomologist Jeff Knight told the Reno Gazette-Journal on Thursday. “A lot of these things last only a week or two.”
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