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Midges: A Guide To Scotland’s Flying Wee Bastards

Midges: A Guide To Scotland’s Flying Wee Bastards

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Picture yourself walking through the enchanting Scottish Highlands, filled with captivating lochs and majestic mountains. Suddenly, you feel tiny pinpricks on your skin and hear a faint buzzing sound.

Congratulations! You’ve just encountered the notorious Scottish midge. These stealthy insects measure a mere 1-3 mm in length, making them the minuscule tormentors of Scotland.

The Scotland Travel Tips Facebook group gets many questions regarding midges and I thought it might be best summarising them all in one place for an easy go-to toolkit.

In this guide, I explain what midges are, how to avoid midges in Scotland, and share some advice about how to combat them.

Midge Fact: Did you know that  “a midges baw-hair” is an official unit of distance in Scotland? For example; “Jings, Margaret! You were a midges baw-hair away from reversing into that wall!”

Where Do You Find Midges?

You’ll find midges lurking in their favourite haunts—damp, mossy forests, heather-clad moors, and near shimmering lochs.

Generally, built-up areas like towns and cities don’t tend to have as much of an issue with midges. You may, however, spot them near bodies of water (such as lochs or canals).

When Do Midges Appear in Scotland?

Dawn and dusk tend to be rush-hour for midge activities. These sneaky insects thrive in the wet and mild climate of the Scottish countryside, emerging with the arrival of spring and peaking during the summer months.

That’s between April and September, with July and August being particularly problematic months.

Midge Tip: There is a Midge forecast you can use to get an idea of how bad the midge situation is where you are going to be travelling to in Scotland.

Do Midges Bite?

I can confirm this is indeed correct. These airborne terrors possess an uncanny ability to detect the scent of human sweat from a mile away, making them more stealthy than Maverick in the finale of Top Gun 2.

With lightning speed, they descend upon unsuspecting victims, leaving behind an itchy souvenir—a red, inflamed bump. Or several hundred if you aren’t prepared and are in a Level 5 death zone. Don’t worry, I made the Level 5 Death Zone up. It’s actually a Level 4 Death Zone.

Just kidding.

It’s worth noting that whilst midges do bite they don’t transmit any diseases, so don’t panic if you get caught with your pants down. Unless you get caught with your pants down in a Level 3 Death Zone!

Thankfully, not all midges bite. Males midges do not have a bloody sweet tooth- but the females do.

Fully grown adults eat mostly plant sap and nectar for their day-to-day calorific needs, however, the main difference between biting and non-biting midges is that for the former, reproduction requires feeding on blood.

These tiny terrors primarily feed on the blood of mammals. If you’re not available, they’ll settle for the next best option—cows, sheep, deer, and even birds. Pregnant females will land, take a taste and, if they like you, then give off a pheromone which will direct others to this newly discovered pop-up restaurant. 

A Highland coo feast

How To Avoid Midges In Scotland

Now that we’ve delved into the realm of Scottish midges, it’s time I divulge my secret tips so you can protect yourselves from their wrath.

  • The Citrusy Smell of Success: Midges have an aversion to strong smells. Arm yourself with a bottle of insect repellent, preferably one containing the delightful aroma of citronella or eucalyptus. Not only will you remain bite-free, but you’ll also smell like a walking rainforest!
    Smidge is the go-to brand in Scotland for repelling midges. You can purchase Smidge on Amazon, or in supermarkets and outdoor shops in Scotland.
    There are sprays containing DEET which are effective but can be very harsh on exposed skin, and probably not too good for the environment.
    There is debate as to whether Avon Skin-So-Soft still works. Many people have said that a change in formula has made it about as useful as a fishnet condom.
  • The Midge-Repelling Fashionista: Don a chic midge head net, preferably in an elegant shade of black. This stylish accessory will transform you into the trendsetter of the Scottish Highlands, ensuring that the midges keep their distance.
    Make sure it is a proper midget net though as the wee beggars are that small they can make their way through normal mosquito nets. Covering up will also help, so if the weather allows for it, wear a long sleeve t-shirt and trousers.
    Wear lighter colours, as midges are more attracted to darker colours (which mimic wild animals that midges like to feast on).
  • The Midge-Free Zone: Seek refuge in areas where midges fear to tread. Coastal regions and windy spots are ideal locations to escape their relentless pursuit. Alternatively, channel your inner Indiana Jones and explore historic sites, castles, and distilleries, where the midges dare not trespass. They tend to stay close to low ground, so if you are going to be hiking a Corbett or Munro you shouldn’t have too many problems. 
  • The Midge-night Feast: Embrace the Scottish tradition of enjoying a dram of whisky. It turns out that midges aren’t fond of the strong scent of this golden elixir. So, while you sip and savour, those pesky pests will be left nursing their wounded egos.
  • The Post Midge Feed Medic: You were unlucky. You get caught out and return to your accommodation with numerous itchy bumps. How do you limit the damage? The best remedy is to use an antihistamine cream or gel, and try not to scratch the bite marks.

Something’s Out to Get Me – What are the Real Dangers in Scotland?

Wolves, bears, and wild boar. Not them. We hunted them to extinction generations ago. The real enemies of the outdoorsmen and women are clegs, ticks, feral haggis, and (maybe) adders.

Clegs

Clegs are horse-flies on steroids. They aren’t as plentiful as midges and tend to be more active on sunny days. Their bites do hurt a lot more than midges though, and unfortunately, you won’t know much about them until they have already bitten you. Insect repellent will keep them at bay. They are also attracted to sweat and dark colours.

Ticks

Ticks are small, spider-like creatures which feed on the blood of birds and mammals. Scottish ticks can carry the bacteria which causes Lyme disease so be sensible if you are going to be in woodland or walking through long grass.

Long trousers and even a decent pair of gaiters can be good protection. Make sure to check yourself for ticks if you have been outdoors and if you do find one remove it as soon as you can. If the bite mark starts to look like a bullseye seek medical advice sooner rather than later.

Snakes

The adder is Britain’s only venomous snake, but its venom is generally of little danger to people. A bite can be very painful and become inflamed, but is really only dangerous to the very young, old, or sick.

Most attacks happen when they are trodden on or picked up. I have only come across two in my lifetime and one of them was in England, so we won’t count that. You would need to be particularly lucky/unlucky to see one. 

Yvette has only seen one adder during her hike of the Scottish National Trail. She claimed that playing rock music on her phone scared it away. I would have assumed it was Taylor Swift.

Wild Haggis

Feral haggis only live above 700 metres. If you encounter one simply start walking in a zigzag pattern away from it. Haggis have two legs longer than the others and will tumble gently down the hillside allowing you to escape unscathed. 

In Conclusion

Midges may be formidable adversaries, but armed with a little knowledge and a good sense of humour (and maybe some of the old ‘water of life’), you can face them head-on.

So, the next time you find yourself amidst the breathtaking landscapes of bonnie Scotland, remember this: while the midges may be insufferable, they make for great storytelling material and a newfound appreciation for the Highland winds.

Stay vigilant and may your adventures be as memorable as they are bite-free!

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Roberta Allan

Thursday 28th of September 2023

The midgies are the worst I get loads in my garden but I find your blog hilarious x