It always amazes me to learn that the majority of people think all the swarming insects known as midges will bite. This is probably due to their amazing resemblance to the mosquito but the truth is that most species of midges do not have the proper equipment to inflict a bite. This is not to say that not all midges will bite. The species that is commonly called the sand fly is quite capable of being quite a nuisance.
But on the average most species of these interesting insects from the Cecidomyidae family are completely harmless to humans. Even so, the masses these insects make when swarming can be quite intimidating to the average nature lover. The midge is from the Diptera order of flies and often commonly called gnat. The best way to observe this insect is to find an area of water and sit by the edge. This can be at anytime of the day and even during the early evening hours. Observe the various different swarms of insects around the waters edge.
While watching you will notice that many of the different species of swarming insects have a specific area that the entire swarm appears to hover over. In most cases the midge swarm will be in an area of moist vegetation or over a dark area of damp earth.
Since most swarming insects are hard to recognize in flight, the best way to insure that you are looking at a midge swarm is to catch one of the insects so you can study it closely. The midge will have a single pair of wings and either long, hairy looking antenna, which is found in the male or short hairy antenna which, is found in the female. Unlike the biting midge, the mouth parts on this tiny creature are not adapted to biting or the sucking of blood, so there will be no tiny tube in the mouth area.
There are no body or wing scales on the non-biting midge and if the wings are compared with that of a mosquito, a distinct pattern can be found in the vein pattern. When swarming the females of the species make a buzzing sound that is believed to be a form of mating signal. Non-biting midges mate in the frenzy of their swarms. In some species the females detach from the swarm immediately after mating by dropping to the ground to lay her eggs, while in other species the female will fly away to lay her eggs.
But in most species once the female is fertilized she is no longer receptive to the males. The males will continue to swarm, fertilizing as many of the females as possible. The females will deposit her eggs on the surface of the water in a continuous string. Since the average life span of the adult midge is only a few days, the adults will die shortly after mating. Amazingly, they eat nothing while in this stage of their life cycle.
Within two days the eggs hatch and the larvae will appear. These minute creatures build tiny tunnels of debris in which to feed and mature. In most species the mature adults are ready to emerge within a month and the mating swarms begin. When the last eggs of the season hatch, the tiny larvae hibernate by moving under the water to hide among the debris at the bottom and mud.
When spring arrives the larvae begin feeding and then rise to the surface where they pupate. Although the non-biting and biting midges are related, there are distinct differences in the two. The biting midge has mouth parts that are made for biting and sucking. These tiny insects are considered quite a pest and especially along the coast or near lakes.
When the biting midge attacks in swarms they can create a good amount of discomfort to their victim. In most species, the attacking swarm will be all females since only the females feed on blood while the males feed mostly on vegetation. It is believed this is because the females need blood to make her eggs.
Swarms occur most frequently at dusk or dawn and are not just restricted to humans. With over a thousand species of biting midges, this tiny pest can be found throughout the world. Although various forms of pesticides exist to keep biting midges from attacking the best way to avoid this pesky insect is to avoid their habitats during their favorite time of the day.