MIDGES are set to plague the Highlands in record numbers this year, according to the world’s leading expert on the insects.
Dr Alison Blackwell is predicting a “bumper” summer for the biting beastie, saying that the warm winter followed by wet and damp conditions just as midges are hatching could not be more perfect for the insect.
“If the rain continues over the next couple of weeks it will be perfect conditions and a bumper year for midges,” warned Dr Blackwell.
“With the mild winter and now the warm, wet spring weather, we could see a similar bumper first emergence in mid-late May as we had two years ago, when the weather pattern was very similar.
“The critical period that determines the timing of the first emergence is now.
“They like warm and damp conditions. They don’t like hot and dry summers. We are in the crucial period now.”
Dr Blackwell added that the spate of wildfires that have scorched the Highlands and Islands last year would have “little effect” on midge numbers.
“They are pretty adaptable in surviving all kinds of conditions,” she said.
“The larvae bury two-to-three inches into soil. I’m afraid their numbers are just so huge it will have made little difference.”
Midges cost Scotland £286m
The Scottish tourism industry is estimated to lose about £286 million-a -year because of the voracious and swarming insects.
A previous study also found that many tourists said they would not return to Scotland at the same time of year because of culicoides impunctatus.
The most high-profile case of midges affecting investment came three years ago, when a rich golf enthusiast revealed he scrapped plans to buy Loch Lomond Golf Club after being “bitten to death” by the insects.
Richard Caring said he visited the former home of the Barclays Scottish Open when it was up for sale but was, in part, put off by the swarms of insects. The club has since installed dozens of bat boxes around the course in hopes the mammals would take a bite out of the area’s midge population.
Two million midges weigh just a kilo - and one square metre of land will contain about 500,000 of the insects. Only the female bites.
The peak time for the midge hatch is the end of May and the first week in June.
The flying midge lives for between two days and two weeks depending on weather conditions. During this time the female can lay up to 170 eggs in as much as three batches. In a normal year there are two to three generation of midges born during the season.
The first batch of midges emerges at the start of the season from their over-wintering in the soil. These quickly bite, mate and lay their eggs. These eggs will then rapidly develop through the full midge-cycle to emerge as adults towards the end of July. These second generation midges then repeat the bite, mate and lay cycle.