Heavy snow = 800 times as many midges

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THIS year's midge invasion is set to be 800 times worse than normal following the heavy winter snowfalls.

Experts say the many feet of snow that covered much of Scotland for weeks acted as an insulating layer for midge larvae.

Instead of being killed off by the million as a result of ground frost, the insects were kept alive in record numbers by a protective blanket of snow.

Dr Alison Blackwell, who runs the Scottish midge forecast website, said hopes that the severe winter weather would reduce midge numbers had proved wrong.

"We thought that a hard ground frost would kill the midge larvae off as they hibernate because we know that they die if you put them in a freezer," she said.

But the opposite has turned out to be true. "One theory is that the snow protects them to a degree because we think it may insulate the ground from the harder frosts," said Dr Blackwell.

She measures midge numbers by weighing the amount caught in an insect trap in a single night. She said if Scotland had a wet spring it was possible that each of the midge traps could collect 2kg of the insects in a single night this summer.

At 8,000 midges per gram, that equates to 16 million midges at one location.

Dr Blackwell said the normal figure would be in the region of just 20,000 insects.

Dr Andy Evans, of the Scottish Agricultural College, agreed that the heavy snowfall had created the conditions for people to be attacked by "clouds" of midges.

He said: "People will have to be prepared to be bombarded.

"In a normal year people are only really aware of the midges when they come in and find they've been bitten.

"This year we have the potential for people to find clouds of them flying round their heads."

Peter Fraser, vice-president of the Scottish Gamekeepers' Association and a working gamekeeper, said it would be a tough summer for Highland workers as well as visitors.

"If you are stalking and waiting for a stag to rise up you are committing to staying in one spot for hours and the midges get on your hands and work up your arms," he said.

"Only the really hardy will put up with that."

George Hendry, author of Midges in Scotland, said: "The experts are probably right. It's not going to be a good summer and the midges are going to be up and running early."Dr Blackwell said taking a few simple measures could reduce the torment this summer.

"People should wear long sleeved tops and trousers. A good repellent is key. They like dark colours and hot, sweaty people; the worst thing you can do is start jumping up and down in a swarm of them."