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Love of outdoors inspires women to create bug repellent

By Staff | Aug 2, 2010

Got no-see-ums?
If you have ever spent any time outside in Southwest Florida then you probably know about no-see-ums. They are tiny seemingly invisible bugs that bite and usually leave little red welts and a whole lot of itching.
These tiny piranha-like insects can descend on you whole eating dinner outside, going fishing or doing just about anything that exposes the skin.
But residents might find themselves enjoying the great outdoors — itch-free due a savvy pair of business partners. No No-see-um, a Deet-free insect-repellent hit the shelves at Sanibel Island stores last week. The herbal-based repellent combines lemongrass and citronella oils to defend against the insect marauders.
The product was developed by local entrepreneurs Caroline Semerjian
and Rebecca Bolinger. Their company is called Velmaxx Enterprises Inc.
Semerjian said the two came up with the idea after repeated episodes of being chomped on by the no-see-um insects during outdoor activities such as night fishing.
“It feels like the so-see-um was invented on Sanibel Island,” Semerjian said.
Island Pharmacy owner Reggie Mathai said the new bug repellent is selling well.
Mathai said he likes the idea that the product is natural and comes from a local business. Mathai said he is seeking input from people who use the product to see how well it works.
Bailey’s General Store also carries the repellent. A limited supply is available now but there will be a supply being put out in September. No No see-um costs $9.99.
And for those wondering what a no-see um is, just go outside near the water or any wet or rotting vegetation.
No see-ums come from the Ceratopogonidae (biting midges) family, according to the bugguide.net website. Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation staff say no-see-ums or sand flies as they are also known are considered the smallest of the blood suckers. Often little red welts pop up from the spot that they bite.
Semerjian said she went to a biochemist and told him that she wanted to create a product that would be natural and help protect people from the no-see-ums. The product uses lemongrass oil and citronella oil.
“It works really well,” Semerjian said.
Semerjian said she can now partake in night fishing without being devoured by the blood suckers.
“At least it makes it bearable,” she said.
Before the product went out, Semerjian shared the new product with Tarpon Bay Explorer tour guides and local artist Myra Roberts — who is often a magnet for the bugs.
“I was like her little test person,” Roberts said.
Roberts said she is reporting good results from the repellent.
“I love it because I am into anything that’s natural,” she said.
Roberts painted an original piece about the no-see-um. An annual visitor from Belgium who has memories of being bitten by the little buggers grabbed the painting.
Celena Faintych-verhogen recalls being attacked by no-see-ums near a pool on Sanibel several years ago. Welts covered her back. In Belgium she must contend with garden variety mosquitos — no no-see-ums.
So when she spotted Roberts’ painting in 2 Islands Art Gallery on Captiva she had to have it.
“It reminds me of that,” she said. “It’s something very typical for here.”
Prints of the no-see-um painting are available at www.myra-roberts.com.