The midgieman random muses - about midges!

Hi, I'm the midgieman, I make midgie products and sell them to shops and you, and that's enough about me.

 midge

All About Midges: Caution - anything I have to say below is totally biased, so don't believe a word of it.
Much is gathered from my shop owning customers around Scotland (and the Lakes and North Wales), some is mine.

Midges are most active first thing in the morning, and particularly around tea time, when any wind often drops. They like moisture, after or during light rain, or, errr, human moisture! Science has it that they are attracted to carbon dioxide, so avoid heavy breathing. If you go for a run, don't stop because they'll get you! Midges don't like the wind, nor do they like bright sunlight. They prefer close overcast warm humid days. There are dozens of species of midges, and they are supposed to exist worldwide. Supposedly there are species that don't bite, and it's only the female that bites. That's small consolation when you're covered in them - and they're biting like crazy.

Midges are tiny - the size of a pin head or smaller. Larger insects, such as the mosquito are often confused with midgies. We seem to get more mosquitoes in the UK now, so far not malarial it seems. To keep midgies (or other insects) away, people buy repellents, make their own, or have other pet remedies. Many herbs and plants have repellent properties, some of these are: bog myrtle (myrica gale), citronella, camphor, lavender, rosemary, thyme, eucalyptus, lemongrass, peppermint, pennyroyal, catnip, rue, wormwood, cedarwood, marigold, balm, chamomile and others. Some work only on the skin, others can be planted as a deterrent. There are a few chemical repellents, there's dimp which was developed in Dunoon / Glasgow, there's Icaridin, IR3535, and the best known of all is DEET, which can melt plastic but is supposed to be very effective. Midges also don't like smoke; I've heard of a village that light a bonfire at one end of the village when there's midgies about. If any wind changes they light the bonfire at the other end. Perhaps this masks the smell of carbon dioxide, of maybe it just makes the midgies choke!

Once you've been bitten apparently midges inject a pheromone to tell other midges that you're fair game. So avoid that first bite! Technically, the midge is of the genus Culicoides, which is of the insect family Ceratopogonidae. The most notable and nasty of these is the so-called highland midge, the Culicoides impunctatus, one of the smaller midges, which is supposed to account for 90% of human bites in Scotland. You'll be pleased to know that the Scottish midge will not give you diseases! For more about the Scottish midge please visit the Scottish Natural Heritage webpage: Biting midges in Scotland.

Still summer evenings are the worst, use a midge repellent or cover up. Shady or sheltered areas are worse for midgies, out in the open and sun is better for you. Unfortunately campers like a bit of shade and shelter as much as the midgies do. Midges can find any hole or opening, use midge netting to protect tent openings. Make sure the netting is very very fine; mosquito nets will not do at all as the holes are far too big. Avoid wet areas, such as camping by the river or burn. Midges can be found on the high hills, but are generally less common high up.

A mistake a lot of tourists make is leaving the window open in their B&B with the light on. Midges are attracted to light, and the tourists find the walls, ceiling and themselves covered in midges - and bites. A lot of B&Bs leave the window open to air the room, just remember to shut it before putting the light on. Midges don't like to fly more than about 7 feet up, so upper storey rooms get less, but they still get midgies. A good trick in a midgy area is to put a light in the window (with the windows shut!), and watch the midges crawl all over the window. They can't get you :-)

Female midges bite to get blood so that they can lay eggs. They can lay some eggs without blood, which is perhaps why they're very unlikely to ever die out! They like mossy peaty wet soil. As well as blood, midges do feed on flowers - and vegetation. My personal belief is that they also feed on rotting vegetation, and perhaps have a use preventing resulting diseases, but I have absolutely no proof of this!

Many believe that very cold weather will kill off a load of midges and we'll have less that summer. Apparently midge larvae have been found one or two metres deep, so I guess that's below the cold layer. I think midges survive the cold, but don't survive hot dry weather. This dries out their breeding grounds. Supposedly there are two breeding seasons, May/June and late July/early August. This will depend on the weather. We also see a lot of midges in April, and even a warm March. Midges can be around still in October, though a cold end to August can see many of them die off.

I got bit on a warm Boxing Day years ago which convinced me to go out selling midge sprays. I/we started with Itch Ease, our spray for midge bites, next came Stop Bite, our midge repellent, which also repels mosquitoes and flies, and other insects. It's because I make and sell midge sprays, nets and candles to shops that I get called the midgieman, all because I was getting some fresh air in the garden after the turkey. A lot of people ask me which is the best insect repellent. I've only ever used our one, Stop Bite which is made with bog myrtle, it works for me, and so I've no idea which is the best. When the midges get really bad I use our Midge Head Net, a very fine and comfortable net which goes over the head and shoulders, gently elasticated to draw the net in below the neck.

Just a note about the meaning of "midgieman": in Glasgow the midgie man is the man who takes away your rubbish. Unfortunately there's just too many midgies about for me to take yours away.

Biting midges are thought by many to be a Scottish thing, but they are found anywhere there is peat or boggy ground, in Wales, England and Ireland. Scandinavian countries also have the problem, parts of Canada (the noseeum) have them far worse than us apparently, they have them in the US, and probably all over the world - except perhaps the desert! Someone on my travels said he'd heard they were introduced into Scotland as larvae on the greatcoat of a lumberjack returning to Scotland after the Clearances. Curiously there appears to be no mention of these beasties in old books - or history. Perhaps it's true. According to foreigners, in England people are always talking about the weather. In Scotland we're always talking about midges. Hmmm.

Midges are thought not to travel far from their breeding grounds - they are supposed to be territorial. Maybe some are, my guess is that at the very least they travel some way to dine out on us! You can get bitten to bits well away from wet boggy ground, or even grass. Right in the middle of town even. I have.

You often see swarms of midges, dancing around in like a circle in the air, maybe 5 feet above the ground. I think these are the males, hatched early and having some fun before getting down to the serious business of looking out for the females and breeding (though many humans would think it's the other way around). If you walk through them you'll probably find you don't get bit, so maybe these experts have a point about only the females biting. Other times though when you get swarms of midges you just get bit all over.

A lot of people complain about getting eaten alive by midges when hanging the washing out. Same happens when watering plants, and a lawn sprinkler is deadly. I guess they're attracted by the moisture. We used to have a load of midges in our garden. After cutting the hedges down a lot, and keeping the grass short, we get a lot less. Clearly with shorter hedges there's less shelter from wind (and strong sun), and shorter grass holds less moisture. If you get midges about you try not to panic, and stay calm. That seems to attract them less - perhaps when you panic there's more carbon dioxide - and more perspiration. Maybe also in a panic we emit some sort of pheromone that they like. Stay cool!

People have different opinions about midge candles, some say they work, some don't. We make and sell three types, citronella which is the common and well-known one, also bog myrtle and lavender. I've successfully used the bog myrtle and citronella ones and they work for me. For some reason I've yet to try the lavender one. Having a bonfire can also work to keep them off, and smokers swear by cigarettes. I guess midges choke on smoke, or maybe have the sense to keep away from fire. I certainly don't think midges are stupid - it always seems that when you have both hands full and can't wave them away or swat them, that's when the midges really come after you.

When I get bitten by midges I mostly come out in just a few red dots. A little bit itchy, but on with the Itch Ease a couple of times and all is fine. Some people really come out bad. It's worth pointing out though, that if you have a fair few bites and just one or two of them are really bad - big and nasty, these bites may not be from midges, they're likely from some other insect - probably the cleg (horse-fly). Horse flies, though big, seem to have a very soft touch so you don't notice them on you, unlike midges which nip. And the bites don't come out for a day or so, and then they can leave swellings that last for days or weeks, and sometimes with a hole in the middle. You can get a bad reaction from these, and people reckon clegs are "dirty". The bites can be bad enough to go to a doctor, and even to end up in hospital for a few unfortunates. I think it's rare for midge bites to affect like this, but more common for the cleg bites. Just a thought, so don't always blame the humble midgie who's just trying to feed her weans!

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