Midges in Scotland: A Survival Guide 2023
The humble midge can be the bane of people living in Scotland, particularly in the Scottish Highlands and the west coast, but we do get them in east Scotland, too, just in lesser concentrations.
Although there is a running joke about midges being a major predator in Scotland, they do actually influence tourism and the local economy affecting camping trips, fishing, and hiking, as well as people who work outside, such as rangers, gardeners and farmers. People will even take entire days off work if the midge season is particularly bad... the tourist industry loses out on hundreds of millions of pounds in lost revenue every year due to midges, with tourists wisely staying away at peak times.
Biting midges are not pleasant and should be taken seriously if you are planning a trip to the Scottish Highlands or the west coast and associated islands.
Let's have a deep dive into the midge scourge and see if we can mitigate any problems you may encounter on your visit to Scotland.
Table of contents:
What are Scottish Midges/Midgies?
The Highland biting midge is a small flying insect that appears in the spring and summer months. All areas of Scotland are affected, but the worst areas are in the west highlands due to perfect breeding grounds in the wet conditions. Scotland's Midges are only between 1-3 mm long and a light grey colour unless they have a belly full of blood; then, disgustingly, they might look red.
Midges in Scotland are in the family of Ceratopogonidae and are named "Culcoides impunctatus" scientifically. The Gaelic name for midge is "meanbh-chuileag", which means "pigmy fly" or "tiny". Females lay eggs in the wet soil or vegetation, which then hatch into larvae in less than 24 hours. Female midges do not need a blood meal to lay their first batch of eggs after mating with male midges. To reproduce again, midges will require an abdomen full of blood to lay each additional batch of eggs (usually a maximum of three batches in their lifetime). In midge season, there are potentially 180 trillion midges in Scotland!
The female midge has powerful serrated mandibles, perfect for biting into the skin and will source their blood meal from any available animal within their vicinity, from cows, sheep, horses/ponies to humans; they are not fussy eaters! They are also drawn to flowers and sap but will prefer a live blood feast.
Cold weather and frost, in particular, are the death knell for the Scottish midge; they cannot survive cold weather conditions much to the relief of the west coast population. The soil-dwelling larvae will hunker down over the winter, ready to restart the process again next year. Amazingly a bad winter does not seem to affect the following year's swarm, and numbers can actually increase.
In my area of northeast Scotland, these tiny flying insects are called midgies (midgees); I guess this is yet another local difference in the pronunciation of some words.
How long do midges live?
20-30 days is the average lifespan.
Are Scottish midge bites painful?
They aren't too bad, more of an itchy annoyance, but many bites may cause significant discomfort. The midge will actually feed for 3 to 4 minutes until they have had its fill of blood, and you may not even feel it. The midge bite injects anticoagulant saliva into the wound, the body's reaction to this is to create itching/swelling, and this is why the raised red bumps appear on the skin. Only female midges bite.
What is the best treatment for midge bites?
The best treatment is an anti-histamine cream or gel. Although it will itch, try not to scratch the bite marks. Please see the NHS insect bites and stings page here.
Are some people more likely to get bitten by midges?
Yes, for some reason, some people seem a lot more delicious to this tiny insect than others. Probably due to varying body temperatures, diet, sweat levels, and maybe sugar levels in the blood. I have seen midges go for a specific person in a group (my dad is an all-you-can-eat buffet) and almost leave others completely unaffected.
A chemical called ketone has been identified in individuals who seem less palatable to midges. The hope is to turn this into a future treatment or natural prevention method instead of using insect repellents.
Phases of midge bites
CO2 in your breath - this gives an instant signal to midges that you are available for snacking on.
Your location - body odour, heat, sweat, colour and movement all give clues to your whereabouts.
The midge will land on your exposed skin and initially sample how you taste with its taste receptors.
Using their serrated jaws, they will make a small opening to start filling up on blood in a similar way to a mosquito bite.
Pregnant females will actually give off a pheromone to invite other adult midges to take part in the feast.
Do midge bites affect people differently?
Yes, everyone's immune response is different, so some people who are bitten may experience very little reaction, while others will get itchy raised bumps. I have never heard of anyone having a very serious life-threatening reaction to midge bites.
Where is the worst place in Scotland for midges?
The western highlands of the Scottish mainland, and also the Scottish islands. The Great Glen, Glen Coe, Fort William - any of the main nature/hiking areas - will have a problem with Scottish midges on warm, wet still days between May and September.
Midges tend to love damp, boggy areas and acidic peatlands especially. Humid sheltered areas with recent rainfall and cloud cover will be hellish places to be in midge season.
There are many dedicated midge repellent options on the market; here are a few of the best ones for your consideration.
Smidge is the weapon of choice to keep the midges at bay. This is an official product made specifically for midge season and is considered highly successful... although you might have to "clart" yourself in it for it to be efficacious.
The main selling points of Smidge:
Deet free (no Diethyltoluamide)
8 hours of protection
Water & sweat resistant
Specifically designed for midges
It also has a secondary plus point of repelling ticks too, which can be a major pest when walking in many of Scotland's wild areas. Smidge works for mosquitoes, too, so ideal for use on holiday.
Please see some of the affiliate links below for Smidge products, including the insect repellent and midge head netting:
Beastie BE Gone
Another all-natural and deet-free option, Beastie BE Gone also acts as a great moisturiser and has a protective SPF effect of 15. An added benefit is it can also be used on bites and stings to provide relief. Sunburns can also be treated with this product. An all-around great option, but it must be reapplied every 2 hours, compared to Smidge's 8 hours.
I was sent this midge repellent directly from Cubby's Salve; I haven't had a chance to test against midges yet, but I will try this summer! It has quite a strong smell but is deet free. Check out the product on their website.
The Wee Midgie Body Butter
A lovely smelling body butter that is hand-made in Scotland. The main ingredient is artificial Bog Myrtle which is a natural anti-midge repellent. The 40g pot is marketed as being able to last the whole season, but I found it doesn't go that far, and a good quarter of the pot can be used on one person. You will need to reapply twice in one day, so if you are a family of 5, one tin might not last a day, let alone your entire trip.
Buzz Off Spray
This is one of the major brands for repelling mosquitoes, but it is also effective against midges in Scotland. It has a very pungent smell, so maybe see if you can try it before you buy.
Be aware Buzz Off Spray does contain Deet / Diethyltoluamide, which can affect human health (negative skin reactions) and even ruin some plastics, i.e. parts of your coat around your neck. I would try Smidge first and Buzz off as an alternative option.
Avon Skin So Soft
This product is not marketed as an insect repellent but does have a good reputation for repelling midges but only for a short time. You will probably have to reapply it every 15 minutes (compared to 8 hours with Smidge), so it's not really ideal for a day on the hills... imagine how soft your skin will be, though!
Natural Scottish midge repellent options
Here are a few options for keeping midges at bay!
For campers, the obvious choice is to have a campfire (where allowed and safe to do so). The smoke will deter the attacking hordes of midges and generally keep them at bay, but you may have to sit in the direction the smoke is blowing to have the optimum effect... which in itself will be unpleasant but may give some relief from particularly bad swarms as a last resort.
A midge trap could also be taken with you to attract the worst of the swarm.
A good breeze can be very helpful and definitely reduces your chances of being bitten. Midges usually hover around in clusters in the air (and will follow you around!), so the wind helps to stop these clusters from forming. It only takes a wind speed of greater than 5 mph for them to be unable to fly, so if there is more than a slight breeze, you are good to go!
Users of Citronella oil have reported some success with midges in Scotland. Made from different types of lemongrass, it is normally used in the perfume industry for use in soaps and candles. It has a very citrusy smell and has been used in the USA since 1948 as a natural insect repellent.
Citronella candles could also be used while camping (be very careful!) as a deterrent to midges.
Tea Tree, Eucalyptus, Lemon & Lavender Oil
I'm not sure how effective these oils will be, but damn, you will smell good! In all seriousness, though, it's likely these will have an effect on midges, but maybe not as targeted or effective as Smidge. Stick to the good stuff!
Love it or loathe it, eating Marmite before your trip and during it is meant to repel midges. It could be an old wives' tale, but if you like Marmite, why not give it a go?
When is Scottish midge season?
Yes, unfortunately, there is such a thing as a "midge season", and west coasters will already be clued up on the worst times for midges in Scotland. April to September is roughly midge season, with July and August being the peak times.
Plan your visit for late September and late May
Visiting west Scotland is still viable in the cooler months; September and May, in particular, can still have great weather conditions. East Scotland has much less of a midge problem, and even the Cairngorm National Park is feasible in the summer months.
Is there a best time of day for midges?
Mornings and evenings are the worst; mid-day is best with direct sunlight. Again wind is your friend too.
What clothing is best for midge season?
Midges love dark clothing, and you are much more visible to them; try wearing light colours. A midge net attached to a hat can be a lifesaver, too, if you are out in particularly bad conditions.
Alternatives activities if the midges are unbearable
You need not stay outdoors if the midges are out in force; there are many indoor activities available:
Distilleries / Whisky tours
Soft play centres / Trampoline parks
Indoor climbing walls
You could also opt for a more high-octane outdoor activity where the midges won't be able to keep up with you as you are moving at speed:
White water rapids
Snowboarding / Skiing
Scottish midge forecast
The makers of Smidge repellent also offer their midge forecast service, only available in the main midge months of May to September. Data collected from weather stations and biting midge traps help build an overall picture of the midge activity. They offer a 1 to 5 scale, with 5 being a midge apocalypse.
Are the midges in Scotland actually a good thing?
Man's attack on nature is never-ending, and we are constantly looking to develop land and destroy our natural surroundings in the name of human progress. Perhaps Scottish midges are a natural anti-human defence mechanism that so far has been successful in keeping the human population low in the western areas of Scotland.
Deforestation in many areas of the highlands has also given rise to the midges, finding the type of long grass ideal for breeding. Maybe humans have created this plague of biting flies and need to rectify it by replanting the trees lost in Scotland for hundreds of years.
Midges as a food source
On the flip side, the midges in Scotland are an important food source for many other species, such as spiders, swallows and bats. A single bat has the potential to devour 3000 midges in a single night! Midge larvae are also eaten by water beetles, dragonflies and fish.
Midges can be used by water authorities as an indicator of water purity; if there are no midges, it's likely the water is toxic in some way, maybe from sewage, oil or detergent contamination.
Do midges in Scotland spread disease in a similar way to mosquitos?
In humans, this does not seem to be a problem in Scotland yet but could be in the future if temperatures increase. In some parts of the world, midges can spread yellow fever and malaria, but thankfully in Scotland, we do not have the same issue.
Farmers show the most concern as diseases can be spread amongst their herds by midges. In hot countries, midges can cause the Blue Tongue virus and African Horse Sickness.
Does Scotland have mosquitoes?
There are around 10-30 species of mosquito present in Scotland. The most prevalent is "Anopheles plumbeus" and "Culex pipiens", but they are rarer than the highland midge but have been gaining territory in recent years due to milder weather conditions.
What other biting insects live in Scotland?
Horseflies / Clegs
We do have horseflies (also named Clegs locally) which can give a nasty bite, but they aren't as prevalent as the midges.
Ticks are a real terror in Scotland, especially for pets. Ticks are worrisome for humans as a bite can infect you with an awful condition called Lyme Disease, which has many horrible symptoms. If you are bitten by a tick and get a red bullseye-type rash at the site of the tick bite, see a doctor as soon as possible. Please read more on my guide to ticks.
Midges in Scotland FAQ
Here are some frequently asked questions on midges in Scotland.
When is Scottish midge season?
The Scottish midge season typically spans from April to September; however, their emergence can vary depending on the temperature. It is not uncommon for these tiny insects to appear earlier or later than expected.
Midges usually come in two waves, with the first generation appearing before the second. As the early autumn months arrive, the number of midges starts to dwindle. This is why hiking during September and October is ideal for those looking to explore Scotland's rugged terrain without having to constantly fend off midge attacks.
Where is best to avoid midges in Scotland?
To escape the wrath of the dreaded midges, seek out lowland regions with consistent breezes, as they are less likely to harbour these pesky insects. Coastal areas, are better than bogs, marshes and woodland.
Scotland's vast and varied outdoors offers plenty of options to avoid midges during the summer months. Look for areas that are far from water sources, as these tend to be hotspots for midges. With a bit of research and exploration, you'll surely find a spot to revel in Scotland's natural beauty without being plagued by midge swarms.
Where are the worst places for Midges in Scotland?
If you want to avoid midges during your Scottish adventure, it's best to stay away from damp, marshy, and sheltered highland areas. Glen Coe, the Fort William vicinity, Great Glen, and Torridon are all prime locations for midges and should be avoided if possible.
What is "midge weather"?
Days with warm, humid weather with no wind to blow midges away.
When is the Scottish midge population at its lowest?
In Scotland, the months of October, November, December, January, February, and March, which fall in the early autumn and early spring, are typically free from midges due to the colder weather. However, keep in mind that the chilly temperatures may not be suitable for everyone, so dress accordingly if you plan to explore Scotland during these months.
Key information on midges in Scotland:
Midges appear from April to September.
Smidge is the best midge repellent.
West Scotland is worse for midges than east.
Windy days can help blow midges away.
Midges are attracted to some people more than others.
Scotland has mosquitos and other biting insects, including horseflies and ticks.
I hope this article has been of some help to you if you are considering a visit to West Scotland or the Scottish Isles. Please don't cancel your trip to Scotland, just adjust your timings and activities and take some repellant and you will be just fine! May your trip be midge free!
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Hi, please leave a comment below, or why not start a discussion on the forum?
3rd of August 2023 @ 16:14:38
Thanks for the time and effort put into this extremely helpful article. We are holidaying in a weeks time (mid Aug), coming from the South Coast of England and are staying near Loch Ness. This information has been of great value and I am sure will help us have an even better holiday.
1st of August 2023 @ 10:44:18
Very informative article, thank you. Smidge already packed for our trip in a few weeks time.
29th of April 2023 @ 16:44:06
anything that flies and stings loves me, ive been bitten all over my body all over the world, i usually use jungle formula, but am going to give smidge a spin when i do the nc500 by motorbike in a months time
23rd of April 2023 @ 11:09:32
What a fantastic article! Next time I'm planning to walk the West Highland Way I will take Smidge with me but have been lucky in avoiding midges so far. I usually walk it in April/May time - keep my legs and arms covered and use Piz Buin high factor sunscreen on every exposed part - but I am also one of those people who mysteriously seem to be unappetising to midges. Sweet-toothed friends are more of a target - so we've worked out that it could just be higher sugar levels in the blood that attract them.
18th of April 2023 @ 21:56:16
Excellent article. Thank you, so informative.
12th of April 2023 @ 18:13:37
Thank you , very informative.
26th of January 2023 @ 18:18:08
A very helpful and informative article. Also very amusing in parts! Thank-you.
16th of January 2023 @ 14:20:22
You can buy small but powerful lithium battery powered fans. The wind turbulance puts the midge off, and, rigged up next to an outdoor camping, eating and socializing area is an effective, environmental solution to keeping them away. As a test, I once sprayed a bit of Smidge on a red postbox which was covered in midges. Within seconds the postbox was clear and stayed clear. Smidge is very effective but avoid getting it in your eyes, it stings a bit.
22nd of November 2022 @ 05:09:40
Great article, thanks so much! Will be getting some Smidge next trip home from Oz :-)
31st of October 2022 @ 20:57:01
Very complete and well written article. Thank you. I’m planning a short trip to Scotland on the last week of April, so I hope not many midges by then. Just one small correction: the midges are attracted by carbon dioxide on our breathing as you said. But the abbreviation for carbon dioxide is CO2, not Co2 (Co would be for cobalt)
28th of September 2022 @ 14:04:03
Out in Spain where i lived for 2 years i took vitamin B comlex daily and rarely got a mosquito bite, wonder if it works with midges
8th of September 2022 @ 18:03:42
I used to live in France, and got into a discussion with someone about mosquitos. I couldn't figure out why the locals never seemed to get bitten. I was informed that the answer was easy, they all eat food with lots of garlic in it. It gets into the bloodstream and mozzies hate the taste of it.
5th of September 2022 @ 09:20:34
Very interesting to read and very helpful
24th of August 2022 @ 13:25:38
Booked to do the Glencoe half marathon on 4th Sept and then 7 nights around the NC500. Your article is very useful. We are considering postponing to end Sept but then I believe the weather becomes more unpredictable. Damned if you do..! My one concern is our 9month old bulldog is coming with. How bad are the midges for dogs?
15th of August 2022 @ 18:40:49
I live in the west highlands on the west highland way... I feel so sorry for walkers across the moorland! Your article is very good but I'd like to add if you can avoid going out before 9 am (so have a long breakfast)they ease and seek refuge after 6 pm...so find a nice pub for evening meal!!! Smidge is the best, in my opinion ..but don't forget tips if ears and eyelids!!!! I use it like a moisturiser every morning as part of my routine and rarely have a problem.
15th of August 2022 @ 18:04:37
Honestly, I love the little b*****ds as much as I hate them. They're an uncontrollable force of nature that defy the plague of "glamping" tourists who seem to want to turn every square inch of Scotland into a comfortable hotel room. In recent years humanity (i.e unchecked capitalism) seems to be winning the battle overall, for good or ill, but the humble midgie remains steadfast in its defiance and determination to keep the western Highlands as a bastion of wild nature, tolerable by only the hardiest of adventurers.
12th of August 2022 @ 20:21:17
Just back from mar lodge estate nr Braemar. I have so many bites so been doing my homework. Dying to go back to this beautiful place without the itchiness, your info was very informative. Thankyou I’ll definitely be taking smidge and a bit of wind next time I go.
12th of August 2022 @ 10:33:59
Thank you for a very informative report. Have a trip to the Isle of Lewis later this month and have been stressing a little as I always get bitten and try to avoid. The colour of clothing is interesting and I’m now considering a change of wardrobe. Cheers.
1st of August 2022 @ 17:41:11
Many thanks for your article. Am planning doing NC500 so looking for best (?) time. Looks like end of May so will work on that. Had some experience if midges around Loch Lomond and don't particularly want to repeat it.(Avon seemed to work reasonably well) Very informative - thanks
23rd of July 2022 @ 20:19:39
I’ve read your article to late ,I’ve just returned from touring the borders east to west on my motorcycle ,my suit is black 😔I was attacked most morning just before putting my helmet on and jacket ,I have bites all over my head and arms I used suda crème to ease the itch and help healing .repellent for next trip👍Hope this helps
22nd of July 2022 @ 13:37:49
Informative. Will take note and get some product
19th of July 2022 @ 11:55:33
Excellent report. Thank you.
4th of July 2022 @ 17:51:21
Thank you for the very clear information on Midges. We plan to visit in August. First stop will be to purchase Smidge.
29th of June 2022 @ 21:13:44
Thank you. Your article has been very helpful. I have bog mertel body lotion and I have just ordered Smidge. I’m staying near to Avimore next month and the west coast in September so hopefully I’ll be well prepared Thank you
13th of June 2022 @ 02:05:07
I’m planing to travel the NC500 route in a few weeks time. Historically being a ‘midge buffet’ I have found your article to be very informative, thanks.
5th of June 2022 @ 17:07:01
Mike n Lucy
5th of June 2022 @ 11:54:48
Very useful info, Planned the trip (NC500) before discovering the extent of the Midge problem now wife is not sure about going. This article should help dispel her concerns, Otherwise its a two week road trip up and down the driveway.
29th of May 2022 @ 10:40:02
Planning a trip but need to avoid the midges as they will eat me alive.
28th of May 2022 @ 20:51:03
Very helpful information NC 500 in June
20th of May 2022 @ 07:47:31
Arriving Loch Lomond 26th May to climb Ben Lomond and carry on to Skye and On an, was getting stressed about midges but very reassures by your website! Will be smidging up! Thank you
11th of May 2022 @ 15:24:59
You're very welcome Lisa & Vincent! Have a great trip!
Lisa& Vincent 😊
11th of May 2022 @ 13:20:10
Very detailed and useful information for our trip around the NC 500. Mid May! West coast first with pockets full of Smidge 👍😁👍 Thank you
8th of May 2022 @ 15:08:12
Very useful information for a planned trip in August