Minnie the Midge’s Tale

Tales from End to End
Minnie the Midge’s Tale

by Culicoides impunctatus

Hi, let me introduce myself. I’m usually known just as ‘Midge’ in Scotland but educated people call me by my old Latin name. I’ve got thousands of different midge relatives all over the world but I belong to the most famous clan of all midges – the Highland Biting Midge. Not all our relatives bite and of those that do bite, only a select few go for humans. And even then, it’s only us females that bite. We have to bite in order to feed ourselves before we lay our eggs. Generally, we’ll make do with a meal of cattle or sheep’s blood but a nice, friendly human always provides us with a special treat!

Scotland depends on tourism for a good deal of its income and we are proud to say that we midges are in the vanguard of those who are promoting the wonderful attractions of our country. Most tourists come in the summer and that’s the time when we are at our busiest. Some people think that we (like the weather) are a problem for the country’s tourist industry and that if we were all exterminated, our country would be far better off. What nonsense! Nothing could be further from the truth! The reality is that without us midges, whole sectors of our economy would be in tatters.

Just think of all those parts of the retail trade that depend on us. There’s an enormous range of oils and creams and gels and sprays and potions and herbal cocktails that are designed simply to stop us from being over-friendly to our visitors. Without these products, chemists’ shelves throughout the land would be half-empty! Did you know that there’s one particular beauty spray that’s manufactured by a well-known British cosmetics firm that’s used not only by ladies as a moisturising body spray but also by the British Army to try to keep us midges away? And I heard just the other day that it’s also used to spray on to horses in case we become over-familiar with them.

Then there’s all the things in the Outdoor Pursuits shops that depend entirely on us for their existence. Hair nets, tent nets and house nets are all manufactured just to keep us at our distance. You can buy special suits; Jackaroos for men and Jillaroos for women; that are supposed to turn us away. Smoking cigarettes, chewing garlic and even lighting barbeques with their smoky charcoals are used to frighten us. And all this makes money for the country.

We’ve been able to cope with all this unfriendliness and we’ve been glad to think that we’ve been doing our bit for the Scottish economy. But recently a more sinister assault has been made upon us – the development of the Midge-Eater. This contraption aims at nothing less than our extermination. It’s a clever device because it sends out a special smell that’s designed to attract unsuspecting midges and lead them to an early death! Yet even here, our sacrifices are helping our nation. Without the making of Midge-Eating machines, think of all the humans who would be out of a job. Men and women are needed to obtain the gas to go in the cylinders, someone needs to make the cylinders, someone else has to transport them and someone has to sell them. We have created a new niche market for the Scottish economy.

The Midge-Eater is certainly threatening our comfortable existence. But this year Nature has come to our aid. The winter of 2010-2011 was particularly severe in Scotland with thick layers of snow lying on the ground for far longer than usual. Human experts have announced that this thick covering acted as an insulating blanket for midge larvae. Instead of being killed off by the million as a result of a hard ground frost, they were kept alive in record numbers by the protective snow blanket. The result is that in summer 2011 there could be 800 times more than the usual number of midges. And that’s a lot. To give you an idea of how many there could be, remember that scientists use midge traps and then weigh how many they have caught in a trap on a single night. 8,000 midges weigh 1 gram and that means up to 16 million midges could be trapped at just one location.

A final thought. Consider the thistles of the field. They neither toil nor spin – and they have certainly contributed nothing to the Scottish economy. Yet the advertising and publicity people have made the Thistle into a Scottish icon. We midges have no such national recognition. Is it not time that our efforts are publicly acknowledged? Perhaps one of those triangular plaques that say ‘Investors in People’ but, alluding to our blood-sucking habits, altered sightly to read ‘Ingestors of People’?

Editor: See ‘The Scotsman’ of 7th March 2011 for details of the midge explosion forecast for 2011.