If you've been doing research about Scotland you'll have no doubt heard about the notorious wee beastie that goes by the name of "Midge". Conversation usually goes something like "those BLOODY midges were everywhere!" Or "I've been eaten ALIVE!!". You may not recognise the name Scottish Midge , they are also known as "no see ums" in the states (which I think is a pretty excellent and appropriate name for the little swines), sand flies in Australia, gnats and punkies. Whichever name you call them there is no denying they are a bit of a nightmare. Here you'll find out everything you need to know and how to how to get rid of midges.
For those unprepared they can indeed be a complete pain and can easily ruin your holiday but fear not, a few simple rules and some good midge repellent should make your trip to Scotland beastie free and let your enjoy your trip without the need to turn into a mad man/woman, swinging tennis bats/hand bags/frying pans around your head like you are doing the time warp.
What is a midge?
The Scottish midge is a teeny wee flying insect with a wing-span of 2-3 mm. There are actually over 35 species of biting midge in Scotland but it's the ferocious Highland midge that causes the most problems. With wings that flap 1000 times a second they have the highest wing speed of all animals worldwide and if you unfortunate enough to encounter a swarm of them they can deliver 3000 midge bites in an hour. That's the scary facts but you'll be pleased to know that only half of the midge population will bite, the males are quite content to munch on flowers. The females reach adulthood with enough eggs for one batch of eggs, after this, if she decides to have more, she needs blood so it's then that the little madams decide to feed on us.
Just a quick note as people are often confused. Midges are not mosquitoes, the are a much smaller version. You are unlikely to ever see a mosquito in Scotland.
What attracts midges?
The Scottish Midge hates when the sun comes out, which is why so many are in Scotland I suppose ? What they do enjoy though is in the evening when they want to party! Even more so when you are situated near dense woodland or still water. Also called the Highland midge, these wee buggers love dark clothing, bare skin, damp ground and long grass. They thrive in damp and dark conditions and this is when you'll need to be the most wary. What initially attracts them is the carbon dioxide in your breath which is why you are unlikely to get bitten when it's windy. As you can't exactly just not breath there are some measure that will help get rid of midges.
How to keep midges away
Fret not, there are ways to stay safe and avoid those perky midge bites. Firstly know which situations you are likely to find them and avoid, don't sit outside in the evenings, especially if the weather is calm and still, sit inside with a glass of wine or a good book, or head to a local bar or restaurant. When you are inside you can keep the windows open, they are usually too lazy to fly inside. Wear light coloured clothing, it doesn't matter what material you wear as they won't bite through anything other than your bare skin which bring me to the next point - cover up! The more you have on the less of a chance they will find somewhere to bite. Save your picnics and BBQ for a nice breezy sunny day. You will be safe sitting in direct sunlight, which they really don't like, and if there is a breeze, even better! They hate nothing more than fresh sea air so if you are having fish and chips for lunch, sitting on the pier they won't be interested. Mind you the seagulls will, no, that's a whole other story. Avoid woodland in the evenings at all costs, this is where they hide!
What not to do
The perfect recipe for an attack of the midges goes something like this...
You are up in the highlands, far from the coast, at a campsite and you've pitched your tent. You and the family are sitting outside in the evening, it's a warm and balmy night. The air is calm, not even a whiff of wind. It's been raining so the ground is damp but it's cleared up now. You are all cosy on the grass next to the trees, chatting away. You are wearing dark clothes. One just happens to fly past, you've been spotted. He goes back and tells his friends, "Hey, anyone hungry? I've just found a whole bunch of humans that look especially tasty".
Oh and if you've had a few too many and can't make it to the toilet block, don't even consider stepping into those trees to relieve yourself because you'll wake those beasties from the beds and your bits and pieces will seriously regret it.
When is the Scottish midge season?
Midges season tends to be from late May and die off in September. The males arrive first then the females a week or two later. The numbers go down then the weather is below 10ºC and if it's below 3º they pretty much disappear. As Highland midges like wet ground if there has been an exceptionally dry spring midge numbers will decrease. If it's been an extremely cold winter numbers may be up since the cold will have killed off many of their predators. So, keep an eye on the weather before you visit if you are particularly bothered about their appearance, but I'm just giving you the facts, I wouldn't worry too much.
If you want to avoid the midges altogether stay in the south of Scotland, they rarely see midges there. They are mostly found in the Highlands and islands, away from the coast.
How sore are midge bites?
Midge bites feel like little sharp pricks and aren't particularly sore at the time, but they leave small red irritating lump which can be sore for a few hours, or even a few days. Best advice? Try not to itch! Try and get your hands on some anti-histamines, you'll usually find some in local shops, if not any large supermarket or chemist will stock both the cream and tablets.
There are many midge sprays available. The best midge repellent by reputation here is Smidge insect repellent. People swear by it and I always have a bottle of it in the glove compartment in the car. Another popular option is Avon Skin so Soft which can be ordered online from the Avon website. For a natural homemade option I found this recipe online here , I haven't tried it yet but I will soon.
For alternative midge protection you could fashion a lovely midge net. It may not be something to wear to the local shops but in the evenings, once it's dark, you'll be grabbing it before you can say 'here come the midges'. They are available to buy relatively cheap online.
There are many other things you can try. If you are on holiday here and come across midges where you are staying the local shops will often stock a few options. You could try midge candles (see my story below) or Co2 traps. If you are staying in a tent make sure you have insect mesh up and you don't leave any gaps. Midges may not come into buildings but they aren't afraid of a tent.
Always make sure you carry your midge repellent with you. It's not much good in the drawer in the caravan or stuck at the bottom of your bag, underneath today's lunch, book and spare set of clothes. Have it ready, just in case.
Midge bites treatment
Even after all this preparation and attempted prevention you still get a bite don't panic, while midge bites are extremely annoying they don't carry diseases. It's the red swollen lumps that you will find irritating. As mentioned above you can visit a chemist who can give you anti-histamines or hydrocortisone ointment over the counter. For immediate relief cover the area with an ice pack or cold wet towel.
Please remember that dogs can also be bitten so keep an eye on them when outside and use the same precautions.
Now that I've put you off coming to Scotland and before you go and start researching a trip to Spain don't be overly concerned. You won't always encounter the wee devils, I spent a week doing the North Coast 500 and didn't see a single one. During all the travelling around Scotland I've done (a lot!) I've only really been bothered by them once. That perfect example above, I did that. I went one better too and bought a Midge candle, but thought the idea of it was to keep them away so put it in the centre of the table beside us. Take note, these candle ATTRACT the midge, so keep it lit FAR away. Ouch. That was a mistake I won't be repeating.
I've compacted all this info in a handy wee video here...