The Scottish Midge
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.
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?
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!
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.
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.