We’ve all been there, reading on the internet when some random comment or throw away article brings something up that peaks your interest. This happened to me today but I first have to take you back to a thin trail of smoke on the Campsies the other day…
It’s that time of year when gameskeepers may start some muirburn. Burning the heather so new growth is encouraged. These “land managers” will argue that the debris and undergrowth needs burned to regenerate foliage and make the land more productive.
Environmentalists will argue that it is an evil, unnecessary practice that is land mismanagement and cruel to wildlife, releasing co2 on a massive scale.
In my search for a scientific and balanced source of information, I spoke to more trusted contacts. Environmentalists and biologists who have worked on crofts and estates, I read their papers, had conversations. I’m still none the wiser. Muirburn is undoubtedly a traditional part of countryside land stewardship in Scotland, but why?
Personally I don’t use insecticides or chemicals in my garden or small plot of land, I try to embrace a permaculture ethos and have set “wild” areas. But then I’m not having to tend hundreds of acres or try to make revenue from it.
In discussion with someone wiser than me, we spoke about the pros and cons of historic and modern Highland estate practices.
This is when it happened, when the throw away comment arrived in conversation. A revaluation. Shook to the core…
“Well the midge was introduced to all the highland estates with the Rhododendron imports in the 16th Century, there’s the evidence of how land owners have broken Scotland’s biodiversity.”
“Scottish Midges come from the Himalaya’s.”
Now anyone who knows me knows I love beasties. I sing the theme tune to the best ladybird podcast on the planet, Hidden Wings and Bloodlust (available on iTunes) and I just had to delve into this spurious claim, or is it?
What is a midge?
If you have ever been camping in Scotland in the summer, I don’t have to tell you what a midge is, and we know they seldom hing aboot in solitude. But for the purpose of vigorous investigation, lets get scientific.
Culicoides impuncatus is the scientific name for the highland midge, it’s of the Genus Culicoides, Family Ceratopogondidae, Order Diperta, Class Insecta, Phylum Arthropoda and the Kingdom Animalia. There are fossilised remains in Amber from the Eocene epoch which shows high abundance of midges across the Baltic and Germanic regions. So between 56 and 33.9miliion years ago there was a massive forest covering most of north Europe and there were millions of beasties.
Midges reproduce very quickly, the life cycle of the Scottish midge consists of 4 key stages.
- Midges mate and lay eggs in the summer months.
- The eggs hatch into larvae and will develop whilst living in the boggy soil.
- Before winter they will reach the final instar stage of their larvae development and become a pupa.
- The adult midge will emerge from the pupa in spring time.
It’s probably only the females who are biting you as the males jaws are too weak to pierce skin. Out of the hundreds of species of midges, only 35 will bite us.
So if they have been here for epochs how can they be a product of Victorian land mismanagement?
This question needs further research. We dive into the ancient records, of which we don’t have many since they have been lost to antiquity or in some Baron’s cabinet in old Wessex. Romans, they talk about everything, did they encounter the ferocious midge in Caledonia?
I like the speculation that Picts wore woad in the same way fishermen slather on Avon’s skin-so-soft, to fight off the dreaded midge, but there’s nae midge carved on Pictish stones. Unless that is in fact what the Pictish Beastie is, a magnified pupae larvae? Water bound and ready to bite?
There is rumours that the Roman 9th Legion were in fact devoured by a swarm of invisible entities (could be midges) on the east bank of Loch Lomond, I got bitten so hard at Rowardennan I had an allergic reaction. This began the Roman retreat to Hadrians wall in Northern England.
But there’s no many Latin references to this so could just be hearsay.
So when does the legend of the highland midge begin?
Burns writes “the midges dance aboon the burn, the dew begins to fa’…”
It sounds romantic no clawing at yer heid. Queen Victoria complained about midges, she allowed smoking at Balmoral to deter the wee buggers. They even ruined her picnics. You can search this in Hansard.
So Victorian reign of the empire is when the legend of our ferocious flying sets of teeth begin to emerge. I don’t think it’s coincidental that the large estates and country gardens Her Majesty frequented was probably lined with imported plants. Including the famously (still problematic) Rhododendron that strangles our indigenous species. “The Forestry Commision Scotland has calculated that £400 million would have to spent over 10 years to completely eradicated the plant from 131, 000 acres of Scotland.”
Where’s the Himalayan connection?
A cold tolerant midge was found on Himalayan glaciers and Rhododendron are found mainly in Asia. FaCtS. Link. Science.
See how we are doing the full circle, the evidence is mounting up. I have links, I have cohesion, this is the conspiracy theory of all conspiracy theories.
Here is my conclusion…
“The Scottish midge as a problematic Scottish terror is a product of Victorian land mismanagement and the resulting ecosystem that is now a wet desert.”
Ahahahaha well done reading this far, April Fools!
There is serious issues to be discussed in this article, land reform, estate management and wildlife protections. But also I hope you could see the heavy digs at wild conspiracy theories. I hope you can be alert enough to decipher academic links and articles from commentarial nonsense. I hope you learned something about midges and also learned that anybody can make up anything, link it with compelling “evidence” and put it in a blog post on the internet.
by Debra Torrance