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Vicious Pregnant Blood-Suckers

This isn’t the headline of an article I wrote for Mother and Baby magazine, I’m talking about midges. If you’ve ever been bitten by a midge, it was a pregnant female one. It wasn’t just being nasty and hormonal; your blood is essential to feed her developing eggs, in that way her children can grow during the winter, pupate, hatch and bite you some more next year.

Before you go whacking things, I’m not talking about all midges, just a select few that spoil it for the rest. There are around 30 odd different species of midge in the UK and only five of those bites. Of those five the Highland Midge is the worst, making up 90% of the bites to humans. Don’t be fooled by the name either, the Highland Midge hasn’t just stayed in the Highlands, she’s packed her bagpipes and moved south to feast on English blood.

Why do some people get bitten but some people don’t?

There are a number of theories.

1. Everyone gets bitten, but some people don’t have an allergic reaction to the midge’s saliva.

2. Certain people have a natural repellent made up of the right mixture of geranylacetone and methylheptenone. It’s unclear from my web research where these chemicals come from, but if you’ve got them in the right quantities you’re lucky.

3. You smell. To a Highland Midge a combination of your sweat, carbon dioxide from your breath and lactic acid from your skin could be very attractive. Add a bit of heat to this cocktail of whiffs and it’s munch time.

4. Aberdeen University did a study that revealed tall or overweight people are also at risk. Most midges fly above head height so when they descend for the blood the first person to get it is the tall bloke. Overweight people give off more carbon dioxide and lactic acid than the skinnies, so the midges sniff that out.

To make matters worse, once the midge has bitten into you and spat in the gaping wound to stop the blood coagulating, it then gives off a scent that tells all her girlie friends that she’s got a keeper, so in they come for the feast.

How can you stop them?

There’s a load of stuff on the market but I would recommend pitching your tent next to the tall, overweight family who are waving their arms in the air and bashing themselves. All the midges in that area will be far too busy to be bothered with you. Failing that there are a few other things you could try.

Buy a repellent. There are tonnes to choose from, and everyone has their personal favourite. I’m afraid you’ll have to try a few and see which works best. DEET and Icaridin are considered to be the most effective but these are synthetic and have their downside, especially for kids.

Midges love damp, overcast days preferable with no wind. They come out early in the morning or at sunset so cover up during these times. You can get a midge jacket or hood if you want (but you’ll look silly, see photo).

Wearing light coloured clothes is supposed to help, again there doesn’t seem to be any science behind this but that’s what people say.

Smoke a pipe, a bit extreme since I’d rather be bitten by a midge than die of lung cancer, but smoke keeps the little chompers at bay. In fact, just get one of those citronella candles rather than start an addictive habit.

Zip up your inner tent. My wife told me to put this in because she’s fanatical about zipping up the inner tent especially in the evenings. When we’re actually going to bed we’ve got to squeeze our bodies through a crack in the zip thinner than a midge.

Don’t sit about. Midges aren’t very fast, if you’re walking or playing a game they can’t keep up. If the conditions are midgey, go for a walk.

Take vitamin B1 before your camping trip, swallow antihistamine tablets, eat marmite, rub pomegranate skins on yourself, use body oil, all over these have been demonstrated to work. Do them all if you want.

Spend a damp, overcast, windless evening in the pub (preferred solution).

Thanks for reading.

Ian Young

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