Despite being only just over a millimetre long, and enjoying a life span on the wing of just a few weeks, the midge (genus: culicoides) – a tiny biting fly prevalent in the Highlands (mainly the west coast) and Islands – is considered to be second only to the weather as the major deterrent to tourism in Scotland. There are more than thirty varieties of midge, though only half of these bite humans. Ninety percent of all midge bites are down to the female Culicoides impunctatus or Highland midge (the male does not bite), which has two sets of jaws sporting twenty teeth each; she needs a good meal of blood in order to produce eggs.
These persistent creatures can be a nuisance, but some people also have a violent allergic reaction to midge bites. The easiest way to avoid midges is to visit in the winter, since they only appear between April and October. Midges also favour still, damp, overcast or shady conditions and are at their meanest around sunrise and sunset, when clouds of them can descend on an otherwise idyllic spot. Direct sunlight, heavy rain, noise and smoke discourage them to some degree, though wind is the most effective means of dispersing them. If they appear, cover up exposed skin and get your hands on some kind of repellent. Recommendations include Autan, Eureka, Jungle Formula (widely available from pharmacists) and the herbal remedy citronella. An alternative to repellents for protecting your face, especially if you’re walking or camping, is a midge net, a little like a beekeeper’s hat; though they appear ridiculous at first, you’re unlikely to care as long as they work. The latest deployment in the battle against the midge is a gas-powered machine called a “midge magnet” which sucks up the wee beasties and is supposed to be able to clear up to an acre; each unit costs £400 and upwards, but there’s been a healthy take-up by pubs with beer gardens and by campsite owners.
If you’re walking through long grass or bracken, there’s a possibility that you may receive attention from ticks, tiny parasites no bigger than a pin head, which bury themselves into your skin. Removing ticks by dabbing them with alcohol, butter or oil is now discouraged; the medically favoured way of extracting them is to pull them out carefully with small tweezers. There is a very slight risk of catching some nasty diseases, such as encephalitis, from ticks. If flu-like symptoms persist after a tick bite, you should see a doctor immediately.