What Are Midges?

What Are Midges?

In honour of our new camping category, we though we'd tackle a subject than any Scottish camper will have had to contend with at one time or another- midges. For our readers in Scotland, we know we won't have to explain what midges are. However, if you're planning a camping or hiking trip north of the border, you'll soon discover what they are for yourself!

There are actually over 35 species of midges in Scotland. However, by far the most prevalent one- and the one most people refer to when they mention "midges"- is the Culicoides impunctatus. Just 2mm in diameter but packing quite the bite, they can be found all over Scotland. That being said, they are especially prevalent in the Scottish Highlands and other rural regions.

Peak midge season is from May to September. Of course, that also happens to be the few months of the year where we get any sunshine in Scotland- so it's not ideal for outdoor adventurers.

Why do midges bite?

When female midges first emerge, they have enough fat reserves to lay their first batch of eggs. However, for all future batches after this, they require what's known as a "blood meal" first. As the name suggests, this involves feeding on the blood of mammals- and all too often, that means us! Their bites can lead to itching, redness, and swelling, causing considerable discomfort. By instinct, they are attracted to carbon dioxide, since this is what mammals breathe out.

Midges are most active during dawn and dusk and are particularly prevalent in areas with wet and damp conditions, such as near lochs, marshes, and dense vegetation. Because of their small size, they don't cope well when there's a breeze, so they only tend to come out when conditions are still.

If you're planning on visiting an area where there are lots of midges, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself. First and foremost, you should make sure to bring along a bottle of insect repellent. You should also try to wear long sleeves if possible, to minimise the amount of bare skin that the midges can bite. Finally, if you're planning on camping, then a midge net is a must, as they tend to be more active at the times when chances are you'll be in your tent.

It's important to note that midges in Scotland are primarily a nuisance rather than a health concern, as they are not known to transmit diseases to humans. So if you get bitten, don't worry- just follow the steps below.

How to treat midge bites

Midges tend to feed for about 3-4 minutes. While they're feeding, you likely won't feel anything, as their saliva acts as as an anaesthetic. It's only afterwards that the bite will start to hurt. Just one bite will likely only be mildly irritating, but unfortunately, you'll more likely end up bitten lots of times.

Although it may be tempting, try to resist the urge to scratch the bite. Scratching can further irritate the skin, potentially leading to more discomfort and increasing the risk of infection. Instead, you should ideally apply an antihistamine cream to soothe the itch without irritating it any more.

Alternatively, if you don't have any antihistamine cream, you can apply a cold compress. Place a clean, cold compress or ice pack wrapped in a cloth on the bite to help reduce swelling, inflammation, and itchiness. Keep it on for short periods at a time, around 10 to 15 minutes, and take breaks in between.

Remember, if you're visiting an area known for midges, taking preventive measures such as wearing appropriate clothing, using insect repellents, and employing midge nets can help minimize the chances of getting bitten.