It’s common knowledge that the West Highlands of Scotland are stunning. It’s also no secret that it’s home to the Highland Midge. Most people, on finding out your spending the summer up in Scotland will probably mention the midges. If you’re planning a visit any time between May and September, then the chances are you will probably encounter a few of these mini menaces, and whilst they may lurk in a few spots around the campsite we aren’t going to let them stop us enjoying the beautiful scenery and surroundings. Even though they are irritating they aren’t a danger to humans, and with a bit of inside information you can prepare for midge season.
Culicoides impunctatus are just one species of midge found here in Scotland, but it's these ones you will hear the most about, because these are the ones that bite. Well, it’s just the females bite, the males are actually quite happy living off of plant nectar and calmly going about their business. The females, on the other hand, need to feed on blood to ensure that their eggs get enough nutrients to grow and develop. The first set of eggs the females lay can survive perfectly well without a blood meal, but they go on to lay several batches and it's these additional eggs that need our blood in order to survive. Their Gaelic name, meanbh-chuileag, means tiny fly, and they are just that – tiny. With a 2-3mm wingspan, it’s hard to imagine that they can cause so much commotion.
They love Scotland because there is plenty of peat around, which provides them with the acidic soil they need to lay their eggs. There are also plenty of places for them to hide when they aren’t on a feeding frenzy; moss on tree bark, bracken and shaded woods provide great cover, especially when the weather doesn’t suit them. Days that are bright and sunny with a good breeze (those tiny wings are no match for any windy weather) tend to send the wee beasties into hiding. So, that means you are most likely to encounter midges on still warm, damp days, particularly at dawn and dusk or when there is plenty of cloud cover to block out the sun. These conditions are deemed ‘midgey weather’ and it is when you are most likely to be on the tasting menu.
The females are attracted by the CO2 you release when you breathe out. Once they’ve tracked you down and had a taste, they will decide whether to continue feeding or move onto the next meal. If you are deemed tasty enough (no ones entirely sure what a midge deems as tasty!!), then the pregnant females will release a pheromone signalling to her friends that dinner is served. Unfortunately some people are more attractive to these critters than others and reactions to bites vary from person to person. It all depends on how your immune system copes with the anti-coagulant they pump into your blood whilst feeding. That’s why some people come up in lumps and bumps, whereas others aren’t bothered at all. If a female does decide to sink her teeth in, then you’re unlikely to know until afterwards, but if you are bitten try hard not to scratch at it, it'll only aggrevate the area. Instead try some antihistamine cream and a bit of will power to prevent irritating it further.
Luckily, with Resipole being on the shores of Loch Sunart there is usually a good breeze which keeps the midges away from the main campsite areas. There is a chance you may find them lurking in the shaded areas, so it’s a good idea to stock up on a midge repellent and perhaps wear long trousers and long-sleeved tops. Midge nets can also provide extra protection but be sure to double check you’ve picked up a midge net and not a mosquito net. The holes on mosquito nets are larger and will let the midges in, which is not ideal. Some people also use citronella as a more natural deterrent, the scent is said to put the little critters off. There’s also a rumour that these little flies don’t like vitamin B, or the tatse of yeast in blood, so it might be worth packing some Marmite for your trip. If you can then try to plan your trips around the peak midge conditions so as to avoid giving them a free meal. You can always check out the midge forecast in advance.
Whilst they can be bothersome in the summer months, there is much more to the Ardnamurchan Peninsula than midges. Hopefully with a bit of careful planning and a good deal of preparation you can explore the beautiful area, worrying less about the midges and focusing more on the incredible scenery and wildlife. Of course, if you find any miraculous cures or deterrents then we would love to hear about it.
Thank you to Rupert Stockwin for the 'Midge Invasion' photo. Text by Jeni Bell