Most of us will have experienced the discomfort of being swarmed and bitten by a cloud of midges. It’s enough to ruin any holiday, especially if you’re camping or out walking.
Here is our guide to midges, including a look at when midge season takes place in the UK, plus how to identify – and most importantly how to avoid being bitten.
What are midges?
The midge is a tiny, flying insect with a wing span of just 1-2mm.
Midges are most active at dawn and dusk ©Getty
Where are midges found?
Midges like warm, damp conditions, such as bogs and grasslands in the summer months. Populations of midges can reach very high numbers between late spring and late summer, and they are particularly common in the Scottish Highlands.
It’s estimated that the Scottish tourist industry loses £268million a year because holidaymakers stay away during midge season.
Are midge bites dangerous?
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, but generally the bite isn’t dangerous for humans.
Unfortunately individuals aren’t often bitten just once, as once they’ve found a food source, midges release pheromones to alert others to join them. Midges can cause severe irritation to human skin and can result in itchy red lumps. However for other animals, such as livestock, midges are responsible for spreading diseases such as blue tongue and African horse sickness, and so the midges can be considered deadly.
Midges may be an irritation to us humans, but they are an important food source for many animals ©Getty
The most bloodthirsty species, which is responsible for the most bites in people, is the Highland midge, Culicoides impunctatus.
It’s not impossible to eradicate midges all together, and we wouldn’t want to as many species play important roles as prey for animals such as frogs and swallows. Instead we have to just try to avoid them and protect ourselves against them as much as possible – and there are some top tips for doing this.
How to protect against midges
Midge head net ©Getty
Try to avoid being outside during early mornings and late evenings, as this is when midges are at their worst. If you’re sitting outside try to sit somewhere in the sun and with a breeze, as midges don’t like these conditions. Midges prefer dark clothes, so try dressing as brightly as possible.
Midges will only seriously attack you when you’re standing still, so don’t worry too much if you’re out walking – they can’t keep up with you as well. Avoid leaving windows and doors open and the lights on, as this will attract the midges into your house.
The Scottish Highlands are hit particularly badly by midges ©Jake Graham
It’s important to always have midge repellent with you. Jungle formula and Smidge are popular, along with an Avon product called Skin So Soft Dry Body Oil, which is accidentally extremely effective against midges.
During serious midge infestations, repellent probably won’t be enough and it’s a good idea to invest in a midge net to wear over your face.
The midge forecast can help those planning to head out in Scotland during midge season. The map of Scotland ranks areas of Scotland from 1 (negligible levels) to 5 (nuisance levels).