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Midge explosion: Scotland set for bumper year of biting bugs

Recent weather conditions create a perfect environment for our hostile neighbours.

Midges: Scotland is bracing itself a major boom in the blood eating insects. <strong>Wikimedia-Commons</strong>
Midges: Scotland is bracing itself a major boom in the blood eating insects. Wikimedia-Commons

Get ready to brace yourself for a midge explosion in the next couple of weeks, particularly if you are in the north of the country, as the pesky insects look set to flourish in the late spring weather.

With their tiny but ferocious scissor-like jaws and taste for human blood, anyone who has taken a trip to the countryside at this time of year will know why they are feared as the arch nemesis of holidaymakers.

Experts are predicting 2017 will be a booming year for the beasties, with recent conditions creating the perfect habitat for our unwelcoming neighbours.

Unlike mosquitoes, which pierce the skin like a syringe and suck up the blood, midges cut the skin like a pair of scissors and then suck up the pool of blood that forms by rolling their mouths into a short feeding tube.

The midge’s saliva stops the blood in the wound from clotting and forming a scab so it can keep drinking until it has had enough.

It is their saliva that irritates human skin and causes itchy lumps and bumps at the bite mark.

Swarm: Hillwalker caught in a cloud of the beasties. Craig McLaren/Falkirk Outdoors

Not all midges are looking to feast on human flesh. Only the female insects bite as they need a blood meal to grow more eggs.

There are more than 35 different species of the tiny bugs in Scotland, with only a few of them likely to see people as an all-you-can-eat buffet. The Highland Midge is the most ferocious of the lot.

Their ability to swarm does not discriminate on any grounds. Queen Victoria had to abandon her trip north of the border after almost being “devoured” by the insects during a picnic in Sutherland in 1872.

Midges do not exclusively feed on humans and are just as happy feasting on the blood of cattle, pets and rodents.

Pests: Many unsuspecting Highland campers can find themselves surrounded. The Midge Factory

Dr Alison Blackwell from Scottish Midge Forecast says the Highlands could be overrun this year.

She said: “We think it is going to be a pretty bad midge season. It has been nice and warm recently and with a bit of rain, which we are expecting at the end of the week, we should see a big explosion by the end of May.

“It is a bit of a guesstimate but we think around 84% of the Highlands is suitable midge breeding ground so that will give us about 68 billion midges but only half are female so looking to bite and we estimate that around a third of those, about 21 billion, will be looking to actively take a blood meal.”

In typical midge weather researchers have estimated that up to 40,000 can land on any unprotected human flesh within an hour.

Midges are sensitive to light and are not big fans of a breeze – with their tiny wingspans of only 2mm they do not get anywhere fast in winds over 7mph.

The Highland Midge is most active in low-light conditions at dawn and dusk, or when cloud cover significantly reduces the intensity of the sunlight.

The best way to avoid being bitten is to go inside around sunrise and sunset or when it is cloudy and still.

But if you find yourself in a situation where coming into contact with the irritating beastie is unavoidable then you should cover any exposed skin and use recommended repellents.

Traditionally Scots used bog myrtle, a plant that grows in bogs and on moorland as a repellent. It is also worth noting midges are more attracted to dark clothing.

Although they might not be threatening to become high street must-haves anytime soon, nets and hats to keep the biters at bay are also available.

Fetching: Sometimes practicality overrides making a fashion statement.

Despite only being minuscule in size the tiny insects can have a huge effect on the Scottish economy and tourism industry.

It is not been unknown for workers in outdoors jobs to lose many working days because of a midge infestation, with a swarm capable of inflicting up to 3000 bites per hour.

Many holidays to Scotland and trips to our Highland countryside can be ruined by the hungry pests if people are not prepared.

Dr Blackwell previously estimated they cost the Highland economy £286m per year in deterring tourists from visiting the area.

Midges are a huge bonus to the ecosystem, however, by providing nutritious food for bats, birds, other invertebrates and carnivorous plants.

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