Burning Man infested: Burning Man Bugs

Published: August 21, 2015

Burning Man infested: Burning Man Bugs, Are dead bugs MOOP? Burning questions for @BurningMan 2015 pic.twitter.com/4oSpG7fQAo

— Champagne Lounge (@CLoungebrc) August 18, 2015
File under great schadenfreude material for all Burning Man haters: Some kind of as-yet-unidentified green insect (any help from you entomologists would be much appreciated!) has appeared by the hundreds of thousands on the playa in the weeks leading up to Burning Man, and the Burning Man twitterers and blogs have been, ahem, abuzz about it. The crews already out there building things and setting up have had these creepy crawly things all over them, biting them, leaving welts, and generally horrifying everyone concerned. Is this some weird ecological side effect of the drought? It’s confusing everyone who’s used to dust, dust storms, and heat being the central problems of playa living.

Gawker’s already picked up the story from the Burning Man blog, which today reports:

You may have seen the bug rumors on the internet. We are here to tell you that they are all true. Well maybe not all of the rumors, but the bugs are real. They’re everywhere. They bite. They crawl all over you. They get up and in you.
There’s reports of them crawling up into women’s bras, biting peoples’ backs, and crawling into goggles and “nestl[ing] around [the] eyes.”

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.
Yeah there’s nothing like a plague of biting insects to seriously ruin a hallucinogen experience — or to scare off some tech bro virgins so they never come back!

As one Burner quips…

Insect infestation on the Playa! The 2nd plague, as the tech sector already brought swarms of bro-custs. http://t.co/Fkws2jblOA @burningman

— Alec (@alecb) August 19, 2015
You think being dusty and dirty and sunburnt is bad? Add some mysterious bug bites to that and maybe this thing will finally stop selling out and shrink back down to an appropriate size again.

Below, some more Twitter evidence.

Bugs on the playa this year. Not normal. Shouldn’t a dust storm knock them out? Like Burningman wasn’t gross enough. pic.twitter.com/pkLrdUy25q

— khloe morris (@khloestarr) August 18, 2015
Photograph taken two nights ago. Black Rock playa. #Bugs #burningman #BRC2015 pic.twitter.com/75sK7MiKXZ

— Bryan Warner (@BryanWarner775) August 19, 2015
Update: Here’s one convincing sounding identification from commenter SFNY:

Those look like stink bugs, maybe babies because of the pale color. They hatch & grow on tumble mustard, but when those plants dry up in drought conditions, the bugs go off looking for other places. They’re attracted to light, so Burning Man will be infested with them.
Update 2: Gizmodo claims to have a positive ID from a specialist.

These are most likely Nysius, or seed bugs. [Entomologist Karl] Magnacca thinks there are actually two other species here along with Nysius, one of which is probably in the family Miridae too. 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 biting or attacking — a probiscis is more like a long, hollow tongue. These are desert bugs, and they look for water everywhere, including in your skin.
These seed bugs are actually common to the Sonoran Desert, and the reason they haven’t been seen during Burning Man before is that they tend to come in boom and bust cycles that come along with outbreaks of weeds. When the weeds dry up, the bugs move on in search of water and food elsewhere. This is from a Sonoran field guide:

Several species of Nysius seed bugs range into the Sonoran Desert and are very catholic in their choice of seeds to feed upon. Weeds and grasses of many kinds with their often abundant seed crops can result in huge populations of these small, ca. 3mm, bugs. As bugs, they feed exclusively on liquid food through piercing-sucking mouthparts. When disturbed the bugs can release a noxious odor.

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