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Bugs Leave As Quickly As They Swarmed In Days Before Burning Man

A bicycle rider makes it through a dense sandstorm during the Burning Man Festival in 2000. Hail, wind and dust storms are regular occurrences at the festival — and for a while, there were fears that this year's celebration would also include an infestation of bugs.
A bicycle rider makes it through a dense sandstorm during the Burning Man Festival in 2000. Hail, wind and dust storms are regular occurrences at the festival — and for a while, there were fears that this year's celebration would also include an infestation of bugs.

Thousands of people are set to descend on the Black Rock Desert of Nevada for the annual Burning Man Festival, starting August 30. But before their arrival, the campgrounds were visited by another group of guests: bugs.

John Curley is a photographer and blogger for the Burning Man website. He says he first noticed the bugs at a gas station near Black Rock.

"So I pulled in, got out of my car and was immediately swarmed with what seemed to me like locusts at the time," he says. "They were really all over. I just said, 'Forget it.' I got back in my car immediately. There was no way I was going to brave that little bug storm."

"The bugs are real," he wrote on the Burning Man site.

According to University of California, Riverside entomologist Dr. Douglas Yanega, there are three types of bugs in Curley's photos of the swarm.

"The really small ones that are present in the largest numbers, those are seed bugs," Yanega explains. "There's the slightly larger bug that are plant feeders ... and then there's the really big ones which are stink bugs."

For most people, Curley says, the bugs are "more of a distraction than anything else."

"But there are people who have uncomfortable welts and raised bites on their skin from these critters getting around," Curley adds.

But as Yanega explains, the bugs are plant-eaters, not blood suckers, so the marks on the workers' skin aren't bites.

"They've been feeding on mustards and mustards contain mustard oils," Yanega explains. "And if you take some of these bugs and they're crawling around on you and you're slapping at yourself or something, you might expect to get some sort of a rash from those mustard oils."

Luckily for festival attendees scheduled to arrive next week, Curley says the bugs left just as quickly as they flew in.

"This morning the wind shifted ... and it blew it all away," Curley explains. "Not to be seen. Gone with the wind."

Even if the bugs do show up again, Curley explains that sort of thing just comes with the territory at Burning Man.

"We have had weather that ranged from hail the size of canned hams, to hundred-mile-per-hour winds, dust storms, freezing temperatures," he says. "When you come to black rock city, you have to be prepared for things like this to happen."

Yanega adds that the bugs will not do any harm.

"If they get in your food, well, that's a little bit of mustard flavoring," Yanega says.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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