I've touched on this topic a couple of times before, but as the midge-stalking season is now with us again (they stalk us - not the other way round...) I thought a re-visit was appropriate.
Firstly, let's get clear - midges are carnivorous flying dots, at least ten-thousand times smaller than a mosquito, but about 100 times more vicious. If you have any less than 20/20 vision, you may never even see a midge. But believe me - they can see you... Midges spend their winter first as eggs and then as larvae, slumbering peacefully and harmlessly in cool peat bogs. As with many insects, they emerge in late spring as fully-fang-equipped flying versions of themselves in order to meet other midges and mate. The female needs to feed in order to lay her eggs - and female midges feed on blood. Any blood will do - sheep, deer, cow... but human blood is the gourmet choice.
Midges are a gregarious lot. They like to spend their time in the company of at least a couple of million of their best friends. When it is windy, they grip by their fingernails onto leaves and grasses, and just chat among themselves, pretty much leaving humans alone. But when the wind drops - it's time for reveling. In cool, damp evening air, a light at an open window is like a mega-midge-magnet. It takes precisely one minute and thirty-seven seconds for a 12ft by 14ft bedroom to become tightly packed with partying midges. Woe betide any human who happened to be in there having a doze.
However, it is not all blood-letting, itching and irritation for every human in the Highlands. You see, in spite of having a brain one thousandth of a nano-millimetre in diameter, midges are actually pretty intelligent. By employing their laser-sharp long-distance eyesight and highly developed sense of smell, they are easily able to identify the most succulent prey. The Highlander, striding through open fresh air, with long-sleeved shirt tightly buttoned at the collar and cuffs, long trousers stuffed into socks or boots, and a whiff of deet around the face and hands is quite enough to deter all but the most ravenous midge. (Midges abhor the aroma of repellents containing deet). However, the unsuspecting tourist, smelling of a delicate eau-de-parfum, and relaxing on a sun-lounger in the windless shade of burn-side trees, clad in shorts and an open-necked short-sleeve shirt, is a far more likely victim. Campsites are a particularly rich hunting-ground for starving midges.
So, should the abundance of the midge put you off visiting the Highlands in summer? No, of course not. There's plenty of humans LIVING here, and we cope OK. Just remember to behave like a Highlander when you come.