Similar to 99s, All-Ireland finals and valiant attempts at barbeques, swarms of midges are most certainly a staple of the Irish summer, particularly on a calm evening.
Many of us who are unlucky enough to get nasty reactions to their bites feel – understandably – unfairly targeted by the insects.
So do midges play favourites? Do they like the taste of one person’s blood more than another? No, is the simple answer – they bite everyone.
“It’s the reaction of a person to the substance they inject into us when they bite that causes the itch. Not everybody reacts in the same way, some people don’t react at all,” biologist Éanna Ní Lamhna told Agriland.
“Some people think that they [midges] don’t go near them at all, but they probably do, it’s just that the person doesn’t react to the bites.
“You never know they are biting you in the sense that you don’t feel them on you, they’re terribly light,” Ní Lamhna, who is also the president of the Tree Council of Ireland, added.
There are two groups of these tiny insects – the biting midges (Ceratopogonids) and the non-biting midges (Chironomids).
In the case of the biting variety, it is the female we need to blame for any itch as she needs “a feed of blood” in order to muster up the energy to lay her eggs into water after mating.
“They don’t actually bite us at all. They stick their mouthpieces into us like an injection and suck the blood out of us.
“But they have to keep the hole open to drink so they inject us with a substance to prevent the blood clotting. It’s the irritation from that substance that causes all the itch,” Ní Lamha explained.
The life cycle of a midge, which lasts around three weeks, begins when its eggs hatch in water; the larvae feed on the dead plant material (detritus) in the water. They, in turn, provide a food source for fish and frogs.
The flying adult midges are then eaten by birds and bats – one bat is capable of polishing off 3,000 midges in a night.
Female midges find their unwitting blood donors through the carbon dioxide we exhale so the key to avoiding being bitten is to smell differently.
Of course, there are many chemical repellents available on the market – not an option that Ní Lamhna is in favour of.
“If you want to put insecticide on yourself, go ahead,” she said.
The author and broadcaster said that a moisturiser developed by Avon called ‘Skin So Soft’ has become very popular, particularly with fishermen, as it has been found to repel midges.
“They tell us that midges don’t like the smell of tansy, which is a herb in the garden, or bog myrtle, which is a smelly plant that grows on the bog,” she suggested.
So sticking a sprig of either on your hat can help avoid midge detection.
If you do get a reaction to a bite – Ní Lamhna said that using a small amount of anti-histamine cream, a cold shower can also help. Also, try not to scratch them, if you can.
However, if you are concerned about a bite, you should always contact your general practitioner.