Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park are currently facing a new and mysterious threat from unidentified insects that have taken over the parks’ river corridors, leaving visitors with swollen, itchy bites.
According to an article in The Big Bend Sentinel by Sam Karas, complaints about these bugs began popping up on Big Bend social media pages over the winter. Names like gnats, no-see-ums, and sand flies have been thrown around, but park staff have yet to identify the species.
Photos of visitors in head-to-toe bug armor soon followed, with streetwise Big Bend tourists showing up to the parks dressed for the jungle instead of one of the continent’s most arid destinations.
River Corridor Superintendent Laura Jennings told The Big Bend Sentinel that it was too early to make a decision about how the parks should respond. “Park staff agree that this is a new phenomenon,” she said. “Without identifying the specific bug species, it would be difficult for us to discuss the conditions under which they thrive.”
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) is currently investigating the situation, and invertebrate biologist Ross Winton has advised that capturing the insects in a jar and putting them in a fridge or cooler for 15 minutes would slow them down sufficiently for observation.
While the parks have yet to put up a non-emergency alert on their official websites, Big Bend Ranch State Park advises “long sleeves and mosquito nets” for visitors within three miles of the Rio Grande.
The source of the bugs remains a mystery, and until they are identified, visitors to Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park are advised to take extra precautions when venturing into the river corridors.