Midges… With over 30 different types of midge in Scotland, it’s most commonly the female Highland midge that bite, they appear early springtime, and usually disappear around autumn. Unfortunately, most areas around the north west Highlands of Scotland provide the perfect conditions. Most active at dawn and dusk, they cluster near water and peat bogs and shrubs, away from direct sunlight and strong wind. They enjoy calm, damp, overcast days – even light rain. Shaded areas are preferred, such as the edges of forests and woods which shield them from wind and sunlight.
Midges stop flying in wind speeds greater than about 6mph, and tend to avoid direct strong sunlight.
Midges are attracted to the carbon dioxide we breathe out, along with other odours. Once they’ve found a victim they inject an anticoagulant into the blood, so they can then feed off of it. This is what causes the irritation and itching. A single bite can be little more than a minor irritation; however, midges are never alone – they cluster in their thousands. As if this were not enough, the female pregnant midge produces her own pheremone which signals to other midges that she is in the vicinity of a potential victim.
Direct sunlight, heavy rain, noise and smoke discourage them to some degree, though wind is the most effective means of dispersing them. Here are some facts about the wee buggers…
- There are 152 species of biting midge in Britain
- … 37 of which occur in Scotland.
- It has a wingspan of around 2mm.
- A swarm of them can inflict about 3,000 bites in an hour.
- They lay their eggs in wet soil, bogs, mires and in the spongy surrounding ground.
- It is only the female midge that bites.
- The males feed on plant nectar.
- After finding a blood source, midges emit pheromones and summon others nearby – hence the swarming.
- Their activity is reduced below 10 deg C and may actually stop below 3 deg C.
- Some people are more attractive than others, due to a mixture of specific body odour and temperature.
- They’re more attracted to dark coloured clothing than to light.
- Still days and dull days are liable to be bad.
If they appear, cover up exposed skin and get your hands on some kind of repellent.
Recommendations include Smidge, Avon’s Skin so soft and Jungle Formula (which is widely available from local pharmacists). An alternative to repellents for protecting your face, especially if you’re walking or camping, is a midge net, a little like a beekeeper’s hat; though they appear ridiculous at first, you’re unlikely to care as long as they work. Especially if you are out camping. (Wild camping)