The Midges In Scotland: An Overview
“Horrible things” “The bane of my life” “They ruined my hike” “Let’s stay in today, the midges are bad”
I really have heard it all when it comes to midges. But what happens when we dig a little deeper about the midges in Scotland?
In Scotland, its actually pronounced MI-JEE but still spelled the same. You may also hear them being referred to as gnats or no-see-ums but, in the Highlands of Scotland, you can’t go wrong with midge.
You may know what they are or you may not have much of an idea, the aim of this article is to make sure you have a firm understanding of what a midge is and what they’re about.
Many people associate a midge as being one of those pinhead sized flies which fly around in clouds and terrorise human beings in the summer evenings.
You wouldn’t be entirely wrong. There is, however, a little more to it than that.
Midge is actually the name given to a group of insects. It just so happens that the most prevalent of this group of insects runs amok in the Highlands of Scotland.
The midges in Scotland are a species belonging to the group of lower Diptera. Diptera comes from Greek and somewhere down the line meant ‘two wings’. This is the order given to insects that use a single pair of wings to fly. It’s also one of the largest living groups of organisms.
It’s this ‘Diptera’ order of insects which had been dubbed the deadliest creature on planet earth. Most of us likely recognise this type of Diptera as just the ‘mosquito’. They are responsible for mass killings in several countries all over the world, mainly by spreading diseases such as malaria and yellow fever.
Luckily, the member of Diptera in Scotland (midge) provides no threat to humans and can just be seen as a pest when you’re out in the wilderness. The main worry is for farmers because, if certain diseases were to get into the UK, midges would be capable of spreading them among livestock.
The type of midge that you’ll find in the Highlands of Scotland is conveniently named ‘the highland midge’. It’s not only present in the Highlands of Scotland, but also in most of Wales, Ireland and parts of northern England. You’ll also find similar species in Scandinavia and across the north of the Asian continent.
What Is The Actual Purpose Of Midges?
This question can be applied to an array of creatures. Cockroaches and rats spring to mind.
When you encounter any of these hideous creatures, the understandable reaction is disgust and a desire to get rid of it/kill it as soon as possible.
That is, of course, unless one studies and/or is fascinated by these creatures.
You may be surprised to hear, however, that midges do play quite an important role in the ecosystem.
Midges thrive in damp areas such as swamps, rivers, forests and lakes. You’ll probably tend to notice them bouncing around in clouds above the water or by the tree branches; this is because they thrive in areas where air meets water. This habitat is home to various little creatures, several of which are actually food for the midges.
As a result, the midges provide a hearty meal to several creatures further up the food chain such as birds and spiders. Midge larvae is also feasted upon by fish and other predators lurking in the swamps.
A midge’s life cycle is a lot more extensive than one might think, it is as follows:
- A group of 25 – 150 eggs in water or a damp surface. They take from 3 – 7 days to hatch.
- Eggs hatch to release a wormy form, this is the larvae.
- They develop over a time period of 2 – 50 weeks, this is broken down into 4 stages and is thought to occur through autumn and winter.
- Moves onto the Pupa stage which lasts a couple of days.
- Adult males and females are produced.
- They can live from 2 to 7 weeks. Males sole purpose is to consume nectar to help reproduce and then they die. Females feed on blood which is used to nurture the eggs.
Why Do They Bite?
The females are the only ones that bite. I know that this is little consolation when you’re swarmed by them out in the wilderness!
There are over 4000 species of midges which bite in the world and its estimated that around 37 of them exist in Scotland.
They bite because they need the protein from our blood in order to grow their eggs. Our blood provides the eggs with plenty of nutrients to grow so, if you can, take this as the only positive from your midge experience!
Believe it or not, cows and other farm animals suffer much more at the hands of the dreaded midge than we do.
When Do They Bite?
When you don’t move.
When there’s low light intensity.
Still and humid conditions.
ALL of the above conditions and situations are just perfect for midges to come out for a snack.
Midges’ wings are around 2mm in length so as soon as any type of breeze picks up, they are gone. They also treat dawn and dusk as their main feeding hours, making midges a particular terror for campers.
If you have a sunny day (not common in Scotland) then this should be enough to zap them. Just don’t stay out when the sun goes down because they will be DYING to come out!
For the hikers out there, as soon as you’re fairly marching along the midges shouldn’t be much of a problem because they simply won’t be able to keep up with you. They’ll be most prominent at the beginning and end of your hike if you are munro-bagging or doing something similar.
Before, it was thought that a harsh winter would kill off lots of producing midges subsequently reducing the numbers for the following summer. This idea was quickly dispelled when reserchers realised that the cold winter actually killed off a lot of the creatures which predate midges, hence increasing numbers in the summer.
They also pick up the carbon dioxide in our breath. This is why when we go out to do any kind of physical activity the midges are 10x as bad.
The Scottish midge season ranges from the end of spring until the end of summer. This will typically be from the end of May until mid-late September with the worst period being late June – early July.
Does A Midge Bite Hurt?
They are more an itchy nuisance.
Midges have mandibles which can only really pierce the very surface of the skin. Midge histamines cause an increased flow of blood when they are attached, but this is often only for a couple of seconds.
The reaction is normally a short, sharp itching sensation but for the minority of people the effect on the skin can be serious.
Will They Ruin Your Trip?
It really depends.
If you go camping or hiking out in the Scottish wilderness, at the height of summer, and you’re totally ill-prepared then you may well have a hard time.
You can take certain preventative measures which will greatly enhance your midge-free experience, which leads me on to my next point…..
Can They Be Stopped?
In short, no.
However, midge bites can be reduced through a variety of different measures.
The most common measure out there is undoubtedly midge repellent. Although they won’t get rid of midges, they will highly reduce the number of bites you get, some more than others.
The most effective is definitely a midge net, but this comes with the obvious annoyance of wearing a net over your head.
There is a bit of a debate out there about the effectivity of natural repellents, DEET rich repellents, or Picaridin rich repellents.
Check out MY REVIEW on what I think is the best midge repellent.
The midges in Scotland are nasty creatures, whatever way you look at it.
There are, however, measures that you can take to prevent them ruining your holiday. The most popular of these is undoubtedly using repellent.
As always, thanks a lot for reading and if you have any questions or anything to add, then please leave your comment below. I reply to everything. 🙂