Mild win­ter boosts midge num­bers across High­lands

Na­ture: Most spec­i­mens are of the non-bit­ing va­ri­ety, says ex­pert

The Press and Journal (Inverness, Highlands, and Islands) - - News Highlands & Islands -

One of the best things about win­ter in Scot­land, along with the ski-ing and the smell of wood­fire, is the ab­sence of midges.

But this year, thanks to un­sea­son­ally warm weather, it seems noth­ing is sa­cred–and they’ re here al­ready.

Parts of Scot­land were warmer than the Span­ish hol­i­day isle of Ma­jorca this week with Skye reach­ing 14c on Tues­day. But now the world's lead­ing ex­pert on the bit­ing men­ace has ap­pealed on Twit­ter for re­ports of midges in Fe­bru­ary. Dr Ali­son Black­well said so far there had been “a few sight­ings”.

“They are mainly non­bit­ing midges (chi­rono­mids) that tend to come out and swarm in the sunny weather," she said.

“But given the tem­per­a­tures this win­ter, I think there is a good chance that there a few bit­ing midges about. It cer­tainly has been the right con­di­tions and that's why I'm ask­ing for any re­ports of peo­ple be­ing bit­ten. It would cer­tainly be the ear­li­est sea­sonal records."

Al­ready, a num­ber of peo­ple have re­sponded to Dr Black­well’s Twit­ter re­quest.

Daniel Ger­ber wrote: “Was sur­prised to see them this early given the re­cent colder weather", while Fiona Fraser from Gair­loch in Wester Ross added: “Got a cou­ple of bites? Could be midge?"

The lar­vae of Culi­coides im­punc­ta­tus – the sci­en­tific name for the High­land bit­ing midge – over­win­ter in the soil and usu­ally be­gin to emerge as adults in May and June the fol­low­ing year.

These adults then lay eggs that de­velop rel­a­tively quickly to give a se­cond emer­gence of adult midges in July.

More midges were about last year – but not at record lev­els, the of­fi­cial end of sea­son re­port on the bit­ing beastie re­vealed.

But the study showed re­gional dif­fer­ences over the chances of be­ing bit­ten.

While Wester Ross and Suther­land were hav­ing to deal with a ma­jor rise in midges, other parts of the High­lands were deal­ing with less.

The Scot­tish Midge Fore­cast re­vealed that the north-west re­gion recorded a stag­ger­ing 21% rise in midges.

But there was a 6% fall in the in­sect's num­bers around the other main record­ing area of Ar­gyll.

Dr Black­well, whose com­pany runs the Scot­tish Midge Fore­cast, said the dif­fer­ence could be sim­ply ex­plained by lo­calised weather pat­terns. Midges pre­fer warm and damp and low-wind con­di­tions.

“The 2016 sea­son started off with ma­jor emer­gences across Scot­land's midge ter­ri­tory, equalling those seen in the record midge sea­son of 2014," said Dr Black­well.

“It would cer­tainly be the ear­li­est sea­sonal records”

GOTCHA: Study­ing a con­tainer full of High­land midges, whose num­bers this win­ter have been boosted by Mediter­ranean-like tem­per­a­tures

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