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Dublin: 4 °C Thursday 22 February, 2018
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Are you getting bitten by the midges?

If you’ve been thinking there are more midges around than usual, you’d be correct. TheJournal.ie has spoken to the experts.

Image: Walwyn via Flickr/Creative Commons

THE IRISH WEATHER has been a major topic of conversation around most parts this summer. What with the thunder and lightning, the heavy rain storms and the clammy climate, barbeques have been cancelled, camping trips postponed and declarations of ‘wouldn’t she be a fine country if only it could be roofed’ heard.

Although the weather has brought little for the general, human population to cheer about, there is one group that are thriving in the mugginess.

The dreaded midge.

After hearing anecdotal evidence that the midge population of Ireland had multiplied this summer, TheJournal.ie turned to the experts to find out what exactly is happening.

Dr Alison Blackwell, a director of Advanced Pest Solutions Ltd and a global authority on the fly, confirmed that there are more midges floating about this summer when compared to previous years.

The Scotland-based expert said that the collections her company have trapped have been five times higher on a weekly basis when compared to the corresponding periods of 2011. “We are also getting reports in of huge numbers elsewhere.”

“And because weather conditions have been similar in Ireland, the case would be the same there,” she explained. “It is because it has been so damp. Midges dehydrate really quickly but thrive in warm, damp conditions.”

Second generation survival

The first emergence of midges usually occurs around mid-May, during which time the females lay their eggs which develop over the next six weeks. Usually when this second generation hatches, typical summer weather has dawned bringing sunnier, dryer conditions so many are killed off. However, that didn’t happen this year which has led to a period of what Dr Blackwell described as “optimal survival”.

“The second generation has emerged in the past two or three weeks and they are still thriving. And that can mean that the third generation, due to come out in September may also be greater than usual,” she added.

There is normally a “little blip” of midges around September but that may be more noticeable this year with people still being bitten. “However, it would only take a couple of days of frost or dry wind to knock that on the head.”

But if those days aren’t experienced, the wintering population could survive and breed an even bigger batch for the Summer of 2013.

Why do some people get bitten more than others?

“Actually some people might just not know they have been bitten,” explains Blackwell. “Everyone reacts differently depending on their immune response.”

But there are also factors which can influence how much attention a person will garner from a group of midges. It is only the female of the species that bite as they need blood protein to live.

“They are attracted by CO2 and even the tiniest of changes can be detected. All other body smells can make you more or less attractive. Body heat, movement and colour are all factors as well.”

A midge will basically be most attracted to a larger mammal that is hot and sweaty. Sheep, deer and cows which breathe out much higher levels of CO2 than humans will be the preferred feeding ground but that doesn’t mean people are safe.

“Every minute that you become more like a cow – big, hot and sweaty – make you more attractive,” says Blackwell when asked if people who are doing outdoor exercise are more vulnerable. “So training or outdoor activities when you are getting hotter and sweatier and breathing more heavily will bring the midges to you.”

Another expert, Rupert Varley from the Kerry-based Midge Magic Oysterbed Solutions, told TheJournal.ie that the emission of pheromones also has an effect on the midge.

“They are quite clever little things as a female will put out another chemical when she has found a meal.”

Varley believes the south of the country has probably seen the worst of the midge attack for the summer with levels dropping off in the past four or five weeks. In May, there were catches of four to five times greater than normal.

Think the midge invasion is bad? Varley has some worse news: a new type of mosquito may be en route to Ireland. “We already get some non-disease carrying mosquitoes in Ireland  but there are other types making their way from from North Africa. We have received evidence that some have arrived in Italy and are working their way up.”

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