Wilderness Guide, Myles Farnbank shares some insight into the life cycle and role of the midge, including some tips on how to minimise their effect on us in the wild.
So, what is this awful scourge of the glens of the Highlands?
Well it is a tiny fly with a wingspan of 1.4mm that can be found at times in numbers that are uncountable. Of the 35 or so species in Scotland only 5 bite and it is only the females of these species that do that. They need the protein in blood to make eggs. Males eat rotting vegetation and nectar.
Midges in Scotland emerge from damp soil in May, usually the latter half depending on how warm and wet the weather is.
Cold, dry Springs delay them and reduce their numbers and this year was a good example of delayed emergence and relatively small numbers on the wing throughout the year. Midges are most active at dawn and dusk and congregate around moist areas with vegetation.
Thankfully Midges are not life threatening and the Scottish midge does not carry any disease. However, after being bitten they do leave a red mark or an itchy bump depending on your sensitivity to bites.
In times past smoking worked well, especially a pipe, but I shan’t recommend that.
The number one best defence is covering yourself up and leaving no skin on show, the hat and midge net combinations are well worth the money. Midges cannot bite through material to reach your skin.
There are various lotions on the market you can use, Avon’s “Skin So Soft” is approved by the SAS (unofficially).
There is another one called Smidge or you can use the old Highland remedy of rubbing the leaves of Bog Myrtle on your skin. The first and last methods do leave you smelling lovely. Many insect repellents contain the chemical DEET which is also a solvent so be careful when using them near precious goods!
The only way to avoid getting bitten by midges is to stop breathing! I know that is a bit extreme, but Midges are attracted to carbon dioxide.
This is how “midge eater” devices work they blow out carbon dioxide and then catch Midges in large numbers. But this is not the only chemical compound that attracts them. Maddeningly you may have been out in a group and there is always someone who doesn’t get bitten.
Researchers have found that 8 out of the 300 compounds in our sweat and body odour deter Midges. If the right combination of these 8 can be found then someone will make lots of money.
As midges cannot fly in wind stronger than 6mph it’s often worth thinking about how to find areas with a bit of breeze to keep them at bay.
There is one story I know of, of a man being killed by Midges in Scotland. Hundreds of years ago a clansman on Rum was caught romancing the Chief’s wife, his punishment was to be staked out on the moor, naked, in mid-summer.
The Chief’s wife pleaded for mercy and the next day they went to the moor to release the man. By the time they reached him he was dead! Brave researchers have found out that 40,000 Midges an hour can land on an unprotected arm… so imagine how many on an unprotected body!
The Scottish Midge Forecast is an online guide to current midge activity throughout the Summer months.