The Scottish Midge

Culicoides Impunctatus

The Scottish Midge, or to give it its proper name "Culicoides Impunctatus" is a tiny winged insect which wreaks havoc on the Scottish population from around May until mid-September. Although these pesky biting little mites are notorious in Scotland, it seems they have spread their wings to feed off the good people of Wales and the North of England. I remember going on a camping trip with my parents and my brother when I was 10 years old. We were intending to chill out as a family for a week when disaster struck. The midges feasted on our bodies as we slept in our tents and when we awoke in the morning we looked like Mr Blobby - covered in lumps and bumps. Needless to say the holiday was cut short as we returned home to heal our wounds.

So what exactly is a midge?

Well, a midge is a tiny swarming insect that can be found in many countries throughout the world. The one which is found in Scotland is the "Scottish Midge" or "Highland Midge." It isn't so-named because it is very patriotic or the fact that it has great legs in a kilt, but because it is a sub-species known to be much more aggressive than its cousins abroad. The insect is very small with a wingspan of only 1.4mm. The male midge is quite a polite chap, its Mrs Midge that actually does the biting. Before she can lay her eggs, she has to have blood - cue the good people of Scotland! Midges are so small, they are only just visible, and are the size of a tiny dot. The female midge, using her mouth, cuts the skin and drinks the blood. It stops the blood from forming a scab by adding her saliva. It isn't her bite that causes the irritation, but in fact her saliva, which can cause itching in the bumps where the bite has occured.

The Scottish Midge having a feast.
The Scottish Midge having a feast.
A female midge cutting the skin before drinking the blood.
A female midge cutting the skin before drinking the blood.

When are midges found?

Just like a butterfly, midges have three transition stages in their life cycle after they hatch - larvae, then pupa and finally they become and adult midge. The female adult lays her eggs in damp or moist soil between the end of May until the end of August. The larvae then hatch 2-4 days later and grow during the summer and winter months. Between May and August the following year, they emerge as adult midges. Each square metre of soil can be home for up to 700+ larvae. Don't you feel itchy just thinking about it?

Dinner time!
Dinner time!

Where can midges be found?

Although there are over 30 species of midge found in Scotland, most of them are pretty harmless, and only 5 are of the biting variety. They thrive on warm, humid weather around still or stagnant water. They don't like cold windy days or low temperatures. Sunrise and sunset are the times that they are more likely to be out looking for some human takeaway blood!

Preventing midges biting

Don't let these pesky little critters put you off holidaying in Scotland, as there are many wonderful sights and breathtaking scenery to be discovered. There has been a website set up to give information on the midge forecast for the different areas of Scotland, which is updated on a daily basis: www.midgeforecast.co.uk. When out and about in midge country, it is best to wear light baggy clothing as midges are attracted to dark clothing and can bite through tight fitting garments. It is advisable to cover up bare skin as this is an open invitation for al fresco dining! There are many insect repellents on the market designed to ward off these nuisance insects, most are waterproof and some last for up to 8 hours. A friend of mine swears by Avon's Skin So Soft oil to fend the midges off. There is something in the oil apparantley that they don't like, and it has worked for her for years. Another thing that midges don't like is smoke from a pipe, but unless you already smoke, I wouldn't recommend you taking up this pastime just to deter the little blighters! Queen Victoria on her trips to Balmoral is documented as having smoked on her trips to the Scottish castle to keep the midges at bay!

Good news

The other alternative is to find a bat cave and live there for the duration of your holiday. Bats love to eat midges and can scoff over 3000 each in one night!

Treatment for midge bites

The bite from a midge can affect everyone differently. Some people feel nothing at all while others feel very itchy and can result in a rash or raised bumps.

Severe reaction to midge bites.
Severe reaction to midge bites.

These are some treatments to relieve the symptoms of midge bites if you are unlucky enough to be bitten:

  • Avoid the temptation to scratch the affected area as this will only increase the swelling.
  • Wash the bitten area thoroughly with a mild soap and water.
  • apply a cold compress to the area to reduce the itching and swelling.
  • rest the area and elevate if possible.
  • use a soothing cream/gel or an antihistamine to reduce the itching.
  • If symptoms persist or worsen after 48 hours, seek medical advice.

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Comments 12 comments

Corin profile image

Corin 5 years ago

If I ever decide to visit Scotland, I don't think that I'll stay in a bat cave to avoid the midge bites... I'm more scared of the bats than the midges :)

Voted Up and useful. Thanks for the laugh...


jacqui2011 profile image

jacqui2011 5 years ago from Leicester, United Kingdom Author

Thanks for the comment. I too am terrified of bats, so I guess I will put up with the bites!


CASE1WORKER profile image

CASE1WORKER 5 years ago from UNITED KINGDOM

great hub- just don't like the midges!


jacqui2011 profile image

jacqui2011 5 years ago from Leicester, United Kingdom Author

Thanks for commenting. I don't like the midges either, they make me itch just thinking about them.


quester.ltd profile image

quester.ltd 5 years ago

have you tried silver water for the bites? or there is a South American potion that is called "Dragon's Blood" (in English) - truly a wonder potion if where there was one...

voted up

q


jacqui2011 profile image

jacqui2011 5 years ago from Leicester, United Kingdom Author

I haven't tried it yet. I am actually driving up to Scotland in the next few weeks to visit my parents, so I will certainly look for it and give it a go. Got to be better than walking around like a well-bitten dalmation!

Thanks for the advice.


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

Fantastic hub. I've been bitten by the little b******! a few times but didn't know that much about them. It is fascinating about their life cycle. It is true about the pipe smoke. But instead of smoking yourself I'm a bit sneaky where I live and get near one of the old fishermen who sit and puff on their pipes for hours. And it is a midge-free, fly free, wasp free zone - heaven for me and the dog! Voted up this hub + awesome.


jacqui2011 profile image

jacqui2011 5 years ago from Leicester, United Kingdom Author

Hi seeker7, I am always being bitten by these critters. I visited the Lake District last year and they could have easily spoiled my holiday. Thankfully I found that vodka and coke numbed the pain a little. Lol. My friend keeps ponies and they get badly bitten in midge season and she has to put a special fly sheet over them and spray them each day. They are such a nuisance. Thanks for reading and commenting.


Dardia profile image

Dardia 5 years ago from Michigan

Sounds a lot like the little "no-see-um" bugs of the upper peninsula of Michigan. They manage to get through tightly woven screens. The name was given to them by Native Americans and as you can tell by that name you have difficulty seeing them.


jacqui2011 profile image

jacqui2011 5 years ago from Leicester, United Kingdom Author

Hi Dardia, they do ssound like the "no-see-um" bugs. I've been bitten before through clothing. I'm going on holiday to Scotland this year, so I will most probably come back covered in bites and bumps!


Gordon Hamilton profile image

Gordon Hamilton 5 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom

Hi, Jacqui. I am very well acquainted with the midges, especially being a fisherman. What I was told as a child (it is an old wives' tale but I personally swear by it) is put a sprig of fresh mint behind your ear to ward them off. My Dad used to put fresh mint sprigs in his fishing hat! Apparently, midges don't like mint.

Acquainted as I have been for many years with the midges, your Hub was still informative for me and I enjoyed reading it very much. Frightening to think what such little things are actually doing, isn't it? :)


jacqui2011 profile image

jacqui2011 5 years ago from Leicester, United Kingdom Author

Hi Gordon. Thanks for your comment. I hate the thought of what harm such tiny insects can do. I may need to try your tip of the fresh mint - just hope it goes with my outfit. Lol.

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