Midges are tiny, annoying insects that bite. They are found in Scotland and everybody hates them. But there’s no need to let these pests ruin your trip! This guide covers everything you need to know about midges, how to avoid them, and pro-tips to deal with the insects.
But if there’s one thing I absolutely hate about the place, it’s Scottish midges, who are top-quality contenders for the most irritating insects on the planet.
They might be tiny, but they’re horrible little specimens, and everybody hates them—and you’ll soon find out why.
So what are midges? What can you do to avoid them? And why must they blight our existence with their presence?
In this midge-filled guide, we’ve covered all that more. So don your head net and come join the fun!
In this section, we’ll take a closer look at Scottish midges – their description, their nature, and their lifespan.
What Are Scottish Midges?
Scottish midges are one of the most seemingly-innocuous-but-actually-incredibly-annoying creatures on the planet.
Part of the family of small-sized Ceratopogonidae insects, they’re one of the many types of small biting midges that are present across the planet.
In short, midges are tiny flying biting insects, and they hang around in huge swarms, in both Scotland and many other places.
Although Scottish midges are very annoying, they aren’t the same as mosquitoes. They bite, but they don’t spread any diseases, so it’s not all bad news (although their sometimes-painful bites can get infected, but we’ll get to all that soon).
Interestingly, only female midges bite. When these ravenous females are pregnant, they slurp on blood to help their eggs develop and grow. And they get that blood from both humans and animals.
Scottish midges typically measure in at between 1 and 3mm, making them ridiculously tiny. In the USA, similar bugs are apparently known as ‘no-see-ums’… so if you’re familiar with no-see-ums, you’re also familiar with midges.
How Long Do Midges Live?
Adult midges have an average lifespan of between 20 and 30 days, while larvae take between 1 and 2 days to go from their little baby form to their fully-fledged adult form.
Though the individual creatures only live for between 20 and 30 days each, the midge season lasts way longer than that. We’ll cover all this in much more detail later, but Scottish midges usually harass the nation’s residents and visitors for around 6 months every year (and especially in the height of summer).
Why Are There So Many Midges in Scotland?
Largely, it’s because of all the rain.
Scotland is a very rainy place, and even in the warmest months, the nation receives a surprising amount of wet weather. Combine that wet weather with a massive number of lochs, and you get lots of damp breeding grounds, where midges like nothing more than to linger about, make babies and irritate everyone.
During the heaviest midge seasons (according to some perhaps-questionable research), there might be as many as 200 trillion midges in Scotland at any one time. To help you understand this figure, that’s around 30 million midges per every one person in Scotland!
One time, I rented a car in Scotland, and it had one of those rear-view cameras for reverse parking. When I turned the camera on, there were hundreds of midges swarming over and around the lens, and the view from inside the car looked like something from a horror movie.
I feel that image adequately sums up the horrendous midge experience you can expect from Scotland, and the vast quantities you might encounter in even the most innocuous of places.
It’s honestly impossible to articulate how annoying, rife and disruptive midges can be. So don’t underestimate the creepy little horrors, and make sure you take some sensible precautions (but there’s much more on all that coming up later).
Midges Activities and Habitat
This section will cover where midges are most commonly found in Scotland and what time of the day (and of the year) they are the most active.
Where Do Midges Live and Spread?
Midges only really live in the Highland areas of Scotland—so if you’re exploring southern Scotland, you usually don’t need to worry about them.
In many parts of the Highlands, there’s a good chance you’ll see some midges, get bitten by some midges, and want to cry about how annoying those midges are. But luckily, there are certain landscapes you will (and won’t!) find them. So if you plan carefully, you can reduce the chances of midges ruining your vacation.
Usually, Scottish midges are only at their worst in particular types of places. Though you’ll find them in most parts of the Highlands, they’re most common in the western Highlands.
More than anything, Scottish midges love bodies of water with little wind. So if an area is boggy, wet, or damp, you’ll likely find midges there. And if that area has lots of livestock or other big animals, there’s an even higher chance you’ll find midges… cos they love munching on farm animals and deer.
You can escape midges by heading to southern Scotland, eastern Scotland, drier places, anywhere with strong wind, or anywhere above an altitude of around 500 meters (1,640 feet).
Interesting fact: when winds reach above 5mph (8kmph), midges struggle to fly. So in those conditions, don’t expect to encounter many of the little nibblers. That’s why heading to the coast is always a good idea if you’re on a midge-avoiding mission.
Where Are the Worst Places in Scotland for Midges?
Anywhere in the Highlands can be bad, but particularly midge-heavy places include Glencoe, Torridon, Fort William, the Great Glen, and the areas surrounding all of those places. Arran is also pretty bad, in my experience.
Although you (understandably) might want to visit these brilliant places in summer, you will absolutely experience huge swarms of midges in these locations. There’s just no avoiding it.
So my advice for these midge-heavy places is this: either visit them outside of midge season or take lots and lots of midge-dodging precautions (more details on that later in this article).
When is the Midge Season in Scotland? when Are Midges at Their Worst in Scotland?
Luckily, midges aren’t always hanging about in Scotland. They’re only active between April and October… and most years, you’ll only really see them between May and September (inclusive of those months).
The length, time, and intensity of the midge season typically depend upon the conditions of early spring. A damp early spring means you can expect a heavy (and long) midge season, while a dry early spring usually leads to a relatively low-level (and relatively short) midge season.
But no matter the conditions, you’ll always encounter enough midges to be annoyed by them… and especially in the height of summer. So if you’re vacationing in Scotland during July or August, it’s bad news, kid—and you should always take precautions.
What Time of Day Are Midges Most Active?
Though midges are floating around pretty much all times of day during midge season, they’re way more active just before dawn, and just after dusk. So if you avoid those times, you’ll avoid the worst periods.
Midges are also very active after any heavy rain, so it’s best to stay indoors after massive downpours.
It’s also worth noting that you don’t get in midge-based trouble when you’re moving. If you’re hiking, walking, running, or cycling, midges will largely leave you alone. And the faster you’re moving, the less trouble you’ll have. But the moment you stand still, you’ll get mercilessly attacked.
Do Midges Come out at Night?
Yep, midges also fly around at night. Because they don’t like strong doses of direct sunlight, they’re sometimes worse at night than they are during the day.
Yep, I know—there’s just no respite from these horrible little creatures.
Midge Bites: Everything You Need to Know
Midges might be small, but their bites pack a punch. In this section, we’ll explore why midges bite, how much it hurts, do they spread diseases, and how to treat these bites. We’ll also learn why some people are more susceptible to midge bites than others.
Are Midge Bites Painful?
Midge bites themselves aren’t particularly painful.
Yeah, you’ll feel a little pinch, but it’s all pretty tame considering how they bite. Midges’ teeth are saw-like, and they grind those spiky teeth into your skin to draw out precious drops of blood.
But it’s not as brutal as it sounds—for lots of people (including me because I’m hardcore), you don’t actually feel the bite at all.
That said, the longer you leave midges undisturbed during a biting session (not that you would), the worse the pain can get—the greediest of midges can feed on one person for up to 4 entire minutes before they get full. And of course, if you were to let a midge bite you for four straight minutes, it would get pretty painful.
But the really annoying part of any midge bite is the post-bite itch. Often, your bites will itch for a couple of days after you get them, and it’s a pretty incessant sensation.
All of that said, some people don’t get bitten at all. I rarely get bitten by midges, but they’re still ridiculously annoying, no matter whether they bite you or not.
Do Midges in Scotland Spread Diseases Like Mosquitos?
In what’s a rare occurrence in this guide, here’s some good news for you…
No, midges don’t spread any diseases. So you’re not gonna catch malaria or dengue fever or any other horrible illness from a Scottish midge. Hooray!
How Should I Treat a Midge Bite?
Most people just leave their bites untreated, because there’s no real need to treat them. The vast majority of the time, midge bites won’t become infected or painful, and they’ll go away on their own in a couple of days or so.
But if you’re a paranoid person who likes being extra cautious, your best bet is a cold compress. Some people also apply honey to their midge bites, which apparently reduces itching (though I’ve never tried it myself).
Most importantly of all, you shouldn’t scratch your midge bites (even though you’ll really really really want to scratch your midge bites). Scratching midge bite makes them worse, makes them more swollen, and increases the (admittedly very small) chance of infection. So leave those bites alone, and don’t give in to the itchy temptation!
Why Do Some People Get More Midge Bites Than Others?
As I said, I’m one of the lucky ones, and neither midges nor mosquitoes give me many bites.
Apparently, there’s one main factor that dictates whether or not you get frequently bitten by midges… and it all comes down to smell.
According to some pretty recent research, people who secrete more ketone (a natural chemical created by our bodies) are way more likely to keep those pesky midges at bay.
It’s also worth noting that different people’s immune systems react to everything in different ways. So some people swell a lot after they get bitten, while others don’t swell at all. I once went to Scotland with someone whose bites swelled up to the size of bottle caps.
But here’s an important note: even if they don’t bite you, Scottish midges are still horrendously annoying. They swarm around your face and body, making you all itchy and irritated, whether they nibble on your skin or not. So even if you don’t get bitten, you’ll still want to take anti-midge measures.
How to Avoid Midges
Here’s the part you’ve all been waiting for. After my incessant whining and criticism, you’ve probably now realized how much I hate midges—and how much you soon will too. So buckle in for some tips on how you can get prepped for a (hopefully) midge-free Scottish adventure…
When is the Best Time to Go to Scotland to Avoid Midges?
If you want to completely avoid midges, you should avoid visiting Scotland between May and September (and definitely avoid visiting the nation between June and August).
So, in short, visit Scotland between October and April, and you’ll have a pleasantly midge-free experience.
How to Keep Midges Away?
There are a surprising number of practical steps you can take to keep midges away. Here are the best and most reliable of them:
- Midge traps: okay, carrying around a midge trap like this might not be the most convenient or portable solution. But it’s definitely one of the most reliable solutions, and can make your Scottish experience (especially if you’re camping) a lot more pleasant.
- Fire: midges hate fire (well, they hate the smoke made by fire). So if you’re camping or hanging around outdoors, build a fire, keep it smoking, and you’ll keep the midges away. For best results, stay downwind of the fire (though you’ll probably wind up stinking).
- Midge repellent: the most famous and trusted is Smidge, which has an excellent reputation throughout Scotland. Weirdly, Avon Skin So Soft, though it’s not a custom-made midge repellent, is (for some reason) also very effective.
- Midge candle: midges don’t like citronella (a naturally-occurring oil derived from certain types of grass). If you can get a candle featuring citronella and other midge-dodging ingredients (such as this one), light it up, and you’ll repel some of the midges. It’s not the best solution on the planet, but it’s natural and fairly effective.
- Midge head net: hardly the sexiest garment on the planet, but definitely one of the most useful when it comes to midge-battling. Midge head nets are essentially big nets attached to hats. Put a decent one on your head, and the midges won’t be able to get through the holes. Make sure you buy a midge-specific head net with very small holes.
- DEET: if all else fails, good old reliable DEET is always a trusty option. But understandably, lots of people are pretty anti-DEET, since it seems a pretty intense thing to be spraying all over your skin.
- Handheld fan: as we’ve already covered, midges don’t like wind. So if you can carry your own personal wind-generating device, you can avoid midges by blasting the wind at your face (and, in the process, blasting the midges away from your face). But you’ll need a powerful one so it can be effective.
What Clothing or Accessories Are Best for Midge Season?
Clothes make a surprisingly huge difference to your midge experience—midges love dark clothes because they make you easier to spot.
So wear light-colored clothes (white and cream are best), and you can avoid the heaviest of the midge swarms.
And you should also (of course) wear long sleeves and long trousers—this is pretty self-explanatory, but the less skin you have on show, the less skin you have to bite. Because midges (and their teeth) are so tiny, they can’t bite through clothing.
More Tips for Avoiding Midges in Scotland
- Camping is terrible for avoiding midges. I love camping, but if you camp in Scotland during midge season, you’re asking to be attacked. Instead, stay in a hotel or hostel with air conditioning or fans—as we’ve covered, midges hate wind.
- If you’re stopping to picnic, or rest, or check a map or whatever, do it in open, exposed ground with short grass and no water. Yeah, midges are everywhere… but your picnic breaks will be way more pleasant if you stop in places with less of the critters…
- … and if you really want to avoid midges, walk while eating and map-checking and all that stuff. As we’ve covered, midges won’t bother you much if you’re on the move.
- Keep all doors and windows closed as much as possible. Midges typically don’t come indoors, but you still don’t want to risk tempting them.
In the final part of this guide, we’ll answer some other general questions to help understand the topic a bit more and to help you know what to do during a day where the midges are unbearable.
What is the Scottish Midge Forecast?
It’s basically like the weather forecast, except it’s used to predict the presence and behavior of midges, instead of predicting the weather.
Managed and operated by Smidge (the guys who make that super-popular midge repellent we’ve already mentioned), the Scottish midge forecast is a useful tool for predicting just how much nibbling you’re in for.
The Scottish midge forecast grades the midge conditions from 1 to 5 (with 5 being the worst), and it’s surprisingly accurate. If its grade sits at a 4, reconsider your plans in the area. If the grade sits at a 5, you should cancel your plans, and I’m honestly not exaggerating.
What Activities Can I Do in Scotland if the Midges Are Unbearable?
As we’ve already covered, there are lots of places where you won’t find midges… so if you wander to any of them, your adventures will be welcomingly midge-free.
So when the midges are at their heaviest, head to the coast, wander up a mountain, or visit a city. And, of course, any indoor stuff is obviously a good idea for avoiding midges—because you’ll rarely find midges inside.
Are There Mosquitoes in Scotland?
Yes, Scotland is home to some species of mosquitoes. Again, just like their midge friends, they won’t give you any diseases, but there are around ten different types of mosquitoes in the nation.
These mosquitoes largely hang around in the same areas where midges hang around, but they’re way less common.
Which Other Biting Insects Live in Scotland?
Scotland is home to both bees and wasps, but they (as you probably already know) sting rather than bite. During the summer, both of these insects are massively prevalent.
Much more brutal than bees and wasps are horseflies (or ‘cleggs,’ as Scottish people like to call them). Though they’re relatively uncommon and don’t lurk around in big groups, horsefly bites are pretty hardcore. They draw blood, and they can really hurt.
Halfway between a horsefly and a midge, you have the imaginatively-named ‘black fly’. These black flies are much less common than midges, but their bites can be very painful.
You also get ticks, which are pretty notorious throughout most of the world. Scottish ticks can pass on Lyme Disease, so take the same tick-avoiding precautions you would take in any other part of the world.
And last of all, Scotland is also home to adders. Obviously, adders aren’t insects… but their bites are venomous, so don’t mess around with any adders you see. That said, adders like to avoid humans, so you’re probably not gonna get in any snake-related trouble unless you’re hassling the little critters.
Do Midges Only Live in Scotland?
No, midges live in most places on the planet. But they’re simply much more commonplace and notorious in Scotland because of the nation’s midge-friendly conditions.
Midges can’t survive in super-cold or super-warm conditions (such as the arctic, or year-round deserts), but they’re otherwise found in most other places.
That said, I don’t think you’ll find any other place in the world where the midges are as annoying as they are in Scotland. Or at least, where midges are concerned, I’ve never visited anywhere as bad as Scotland.
Midges in Scotland: Final Words and Further Reading
There you have it — everything you need to know about midges in Scotland! Hopefully, you’re now much better equipped for a midge-free Scottish experience.
Thanks for reading, thanks for choosing Travelness, and we’ll see you next time!
If you want to know more about the creatures and critters you’ll find in the nation, check out our post on 25 of the most interesting wild animals you can find in Scotland. And for even more, wander on over to our guides on bears in Scotland and wolves in Scotland.