Do Midge Flies Bite? Uncovering the Truth About These Tiny Pests

Midge flies, commonly found near bodies of water, often raise concerns due to their resemblance to mosquitoes. Although these small, delicate insects may look similar to their blood-sucking counterparts, there is a key difference between the two that sets them apart.

Chironomid midges, a type of non-biting midge, have an aquatic larval stage in which they inhabit the bottom of lakes and ponds. Adult chironomid midges, unlike mosquitoes, do not bite or transmit diseases and have a short lifespan of about two to three days source. On the other hand, biting midges, also known as no-see-ums, punkies, or sand flies, do bite and can cause itchiness or discomfort. Despite the potential annoyance, it’s essential to recognize that not all midge flies are harmful and some are simply harmless insects that pose no risk to humans.

Identifying Midge Flies

Appearance

Midge flies, also known as non-biting midges, belong to the family Chironomidae and look very similar to mosquitoes. They have a soft body with long, narrow wings and long, skinny legs1. Here are some key characteristics:

  • Long, narrow wings
  • Long, skinny legs
  • Soft-bodied
  • Found near bodies of water

Size and Wings

Midge flies are relatively small insects, with sizes ranging from 1/32 to 1 3/8 inch in length2. They belong to the Diptera order, which means they have only one pair of wings1. Their wings and legs are notably long and slender in comparison to their body size.

Male Vs Female Midges

There are a few key differences between male and female midges. Male midges have bushy or feathery antennae, while female midges have feathered antennae2. Let’s compare them in a table:

Male Midges Female Midges
Bushy antennae Feathered antennae
Attracted to light Less attracted to light

It’s important to note that unlike mosquitoes, female midge flies do not bite1. They do not have the necessary mouthparts to bite. Therefore, midge flies are considered harmless to humans.

In summary, midge flies are small, non-biting insects resembling mosquitoes. They have a soft body, long narrow wings, and skinny legs. Males have bushy antennae, while females have feathered antennae. Although they look similar to mosquitoes, midges do not bite and are therefore considered harmless.

Biting Midges and Their Behavior

Blood Feeding Habits

Biting midges are small flies belonging to the family Ceratopogonidae, with over 4,000 species worldwide1. Unlike non-biting midges, these tiny insects feed on blood, using their narrow proboscis to pierce the skin and extract blood from their hosts. Some examples of biting midges include species from the Culicoides genus3.

Painful Bites

Midge bites can be quite painful and itchy for humans and other animals. Although they are small, their bites can cause discomfort and even allergic reactions in some cases2.

Swarming and Breeding

Biting midges are known to form swarms and are attracted to specific habitats like swamps or wetlands. These areas provide ideal breeding sites for midges, as the aquatic larvae can develop in the organic muck at the bottom of the water body4.

Comparison between Biting Midges and Mosquitoes

Characteristics Biting Midges Mosquitoes
Size Smaller than mosquitoes Larger than midges
Feeding habits Primarily blood-feeding Blood-feeding females; males feed on nectar
Bites Painful and itchy Itchy, but less painful
Breeding sites Swamps, wetlands, and other damp habitats Standing water, including artificial containers

Pros and Cons of Biting Midge-Control Methods

For controlling biting midges, it is essential to understand their pros and cons:

  • Insecticides: can be effective but harmful to non-target organisms and the environment
  • Traps: may reduce midge numbers but may not completely eliminate the problem
  • Physical barriers: can keep midges away from living spaces but may not be practical in all situations

In summary, biting midges are small blood-feeding insects known for their painful bites and swarming behavior. They are attracted to damp habitats like swamps, where they breed and develop. Understanding their behavior and control methods can help minimize the discomfort caused by these pesky insects.

The Life Cycle of Midge Flies

Eggs and Larvae

Midge flies lay their eggs in masses on aquatic habitats like ponds, lakes, and marshes. Once hatched, the larvae (commonly known as bloodworms) live in the sediment of these habitats.

Some characteristics of midge larvae include:

  • Chironomidae family
  • Aquatic life stage
  • Vital part of the ecosystem

Midges serve an essential role in the food chain, as fish and other aquatic organisms rely on them as a food source.

Pupae and Imago

After the larval stage, midges enter the pupal stage, where they develop into adults (imago). Emerging adult midges have delicate, dainty bodies, with long, narrow wings and long, skinny legs. Males have bushy antennae, while females often have feathered ones.

Mating and Reproduction

Mating in midges mainly occurs during their short adult lifespan, which lasts about two to three days. Males detect the high-pitched sounds of females’ wings using their antennae, and swarms form to mate.

After mating, females lay egg masses in water, restarting the midge life cycle.

Comparison of Midges and Mosquitoes

Feature Midges Mosquitoes
Appearance Small, dainty Varies
Feeding Larvae feed on organic matter Females feed on blood
Biting Do not bite Females bite
Disease Transmit Do not transmit diseases Can transmit diseases
Lifespan Adult midges live for 2-3 days Varies

In conclusion, midge flies have a fascinating life cycle that plays a crucial role in aquatic ecosystems. While they may resemble mosquitoes, they do not bite or transmit diseases, making them less problematic for humans.

Preventing and Treating Midge Bites

Protective Measures

  • Use insect repellent: Apply repellents containing DEET or Picaridin on exposed skin.
  • Wear appropriate clothing: Long-sleeved shirts and long pants can help prevent bites.
  • Use nets and screens: Install window screens and use bed nets to keep midges away.

Home Remedies

  • Ice pack: Apply an ice pack to reduce swelling and relieve itchiness.
  • Tea tree oil: Dab a small amount of diluted tea tree oil on the affected area to soothe itching.
  • Baby oil: Some people find applying baby oil on exposed skin can deter midges from biting.

Medical Treatments

  • Antihistamine: Take over-the-counter antihistamines to minimize allergic reactions like hives and itching.
  • In case of infection: If you experience fever or signs of infection, seek medical attention promptly.
Method Pros Cons
DEET Effective repellent; widely available Can cause irritation in some people
Picaridin Effective repellent; less irritating Less available; may require online purchase
Insecticides Can control midge populations May harm other beneficial organisms
Fogging Effective in reducing midge numbers Requires professional application

Non-Biting Midges and Their Role in the Environment

Feeding Patterns

Non-biting midges, also known as blind mosquitoes, belong to the family Chironomidae. They are commonly mistaken for mosquitoes; however, they do not bite. As larvae, they are called bloodworms, due to their red color containing hemoglobin. Bloodworms eat organic matter and algae. Adult midges mainly feed on nectar to obtain energy for reproduction.

Habitat

Non-biting midges can be found in various habitats such as:

  • Ponds
  • Lakes
  • Rivers

They are closely related to phantom midges or Chaoboridae, which are also predatory and non-biting. These aquatic midges can emerge in large numbers from their habitats and are attracted to bright lights on homes near water.

Ecological Importance

Non-biting midges play a significant role in the ecosystem. Some key ecological contributions include:

  • Serving as a food source: They provide sustenance for fish, birds, and other insects.
  • Pollination: Adult midges that feed on nectar contribute to plant pollination.
  • Organic matter breakdown: Bloodworms help break down organic matter in aquatic environments.
Non-biting Midges (Chironomidae) Phantom Midges (Chaoboridae)
Feeding Nectar, Organic matter, Algae Predatory on other organisms
Habitat Ponds, Lakes, Rivers Ponds, Lakes, Rivers
Biting No No
Ecological Importance Food source, Pollination, Matter breakdown Food source, Predatory control

In conclusion, non-biting midges, or blind mosquitoes, are harmless insects that contribute positively to the environment.

Footnotes

  1. Midges Midge Flies; Non-Biting Midges; Blind Mosquitoes 2 3 4

  2. Midges | Home & Garden Information Center 2 3

  3. biting midges, no-see-ums, Culicoides spp. – Entomology and Nematology

  4. UF/IFAS expert explains what to expect when midges invade your pond or lake

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Male Midge

 

Moth at Waldo Lake, Oregon
Location: Waldo Lake, Central Cascades, Oregon
August 1, 2011 10:38 pm
It looked more like a fly or mosquito but up close I’d say it’s a moth. Any idea what kind of moth?
Signature: Richard

Unknown Male Midge

Hi Richard,
Your initial instinct was correct.  This is not a moth, despite its feathery antennae.  It is a Midge, a group of Flies closely classified with Mosquitoes.  There are Biting Midges and those that do not bite, but alas, we have had no luck identifying the species you submitted.  We can tell you that it is a male based on the feathery antennae.  You can try searching through the insects posted to BugGuide under the infraorder Culicomorpha and you might have better luck than we have had.

Letter 2 – College Level Insect Collection doesn't dispell Fear of Insects

 

Real Fear of Bugs
November 7, 2009
Hi WTB,
I am taking a General Biology II course at a university and part of our grade includes presenting an insect collection. I cannot understand why we even have to do it for many reasons. First, we have to go out and find and kill 35 species, from at least 10 different orders, and key out 17 different families. This is not an entomology course whatsoever, just a biology class that entails the study of evolution, and the different Domains and Kingdoms. Only 2 days out of a semester were even discussed about insects.
Can someone please tell me how anyone can stand insects and bugs? Or am I missing out on something here? I am scared of “bugs” in general because I have had too many frightening encounters with them crawling on me and yes, biting me. I’ve always told my husband that when I die, to please cremate me just because I hate bugs and do not want them around me even when I am dead.
So the Insect Collection, to me, is a waste of my time since I am killing what some believe are just co-habitants of our world; and, because after 10 weeks, I still don’t like them. I guess this is supposed to teach me to appreciate them, but the more photos I see of insects during my countless hours of trying to identify and classify them, the more I fear them. Perhaps I was killed by insects in my previous life, I don’t know. I just don’t get it.
And I know you’ll hate me for mentioning this part, but the one thing that I have learned from my project is how to kill them. Otherwise, what do you suggest for someone like me to truly overcome the fear of them? Are there any bugs that you do suggest killing? To me, it’s fair game, if a bug is inside my house, it’s a dead bug. I certainly hope that statement won’t “come back to bite me.”
Just Don’t Like Them
Southern Nevada

Midge
Midge

Dear Just Don’t Like Them,
We doubt that we would have any more luck trying to convince you of the virtues of insects than we did last night trying to convince our coworker Sharon the Speech instructor of the value and savoriness of eggplant as a culinary ingredient.  Sharon dislikes eggplant and you dislike insects, period.  As to the merits of the insect collection in your biology class, we hesitate to question the academic freedom of a fellow educator.  We can say that it is far easier to teach taxonomy through an insect collection than through a bird collection.  We do not hate you for your comment about killing, and we doubt that this activity will continue once the semester is completed.  We don’t know how to help you overcome your fear, and we do not think your phobia warrants psychiatric attention provided it does not seriously affect your ability to function, which clearly by your letter it does not.  In the end, while you may never develop any love for the insect kingdom, and while your fear may never dissipate, we hope that at least you will appreciate the necessary niche that insects fill in the subtle balance of the web of life on our planet.  Good luck with your class and your collection.  We suspect that you are probably at the top of your class when it comes to assessing the performance rates of your fellow students.

Letter 3 – Dancing Midges

 

Subject:  Swarming Midges
Location:  Mount Washington, Los Angeles
May 14, 2017 5:21 PM
Though we pride ourselves on daily postings, even postdating submissions to go live when we are away from the office, we have not had a live post in a week due to a bout of pneumonia hospitalizing our editorial staff, but Daniel is now back on the job.  This image of Dancing Midges is several weeks old, but we are always thrilled to see this phenomenon, generally in the spring, and frequently near the Los Angeles River.

Dancing Midges

Letter 4 – Male Midge

 

Subject: Unknown winged insect
Location: SE Baton Rouge, Louisiana
January 19, 2015 7:50 am
I was refilling my bird feeders when this insect dropped off the remains of a seed block onto my trash container. The critter measured about .75 inch from front feet to tail.
From the looks of those antennae my guess is that he navigates by scent or vibration rather than vision.
Any idea what it is?
Signature: Russ Norwood

Male Midge
Male Midge

Dear Russ,
This is a male (yes those antennae enable him to locate a female) member of the order Diptera that includes Flies and related insects with two wings.  We suspect this is a male Midge or male Gnat and it looks quite similar to this image of
 Apsectrotanypus johnsoni that we located on BugGuide, however, BugGuide indicates a size of 4mm, which is considerably smaller than the 3/4 inch you have indicated.  We will try to determine the species identity of your large male Midge.  Of the Lake Midge from further North, BugGuide indicates:  “Wing length typically 5.9 mm, occasionally as long as 7.5 mm. Male body length typically 10, occasionally as long as 13 mm. This is the largest member of the family.”

Thanks for the rapid reply as well as for your very interesting response.  My estimate of size was rough, so is probably best taken with a grain of salt.  I included everything from the tip of the (abdomen?) to the tips of the two extended front legs.
Thanks to your kind response I looked up the species elsewhere.  This reference on wikipedia mentions that some may feed on sugars.  For what it’s worth, the seeds in the block remnant on which I found him were glued together with sugars.
I’ve made a donation Daniel.  Thanks again.
Russ Norwood

Thanks for your kind donation Russ.  We are still awaiting a response from Eric Eaton to see if he recognizes you Midge.

Eric Eaton Responds
Hi, Daniel:

It is indeed a male midge, family Chironomidae, and some can get pretty large.  There is somebody that has written a book about midges of the southeast, … John Epler.  Here’s his web page link:
http://home.comcast.net/~johnepler3/index.html
Eric

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Midge in Amber

 

Unusual Midge – In Copal
April 15, 2010
Hello,
Found this in Madagascar Copal, around 5,000 years old, wings are 10mm, body about 8 mm, wings have symetrical patternation, very long striped legs ( like porcupine needles!) Huge head for the body…I have around 3,000 inclusion specimens but have never seen this type before. Richard
BadJakey
Madagascar

Midge in Amber

Dear Jake,
We are jealous of your fossilized insect in amber collection.  We would love some amber cufflinks with insects.

Midge in Amber

Hi Daniel,
Do not be jealous…
goto www.BadJakeyArt.com – which is my ebay shop.
Menu on left – Unusual Fossils…
and you can find 300 of my copal & amber pieces, some of whcih I have probably miss-identified.
Was my submission some kind of MayFly?
Richard

Hi Richard,
It is not a Mayfly.  We agree it is probably a midge.

More Insects in Amber
April 20, 2010
Hi Daniel, I stumbled across this today.
http://news.discovery.com/animals/amber-cretaceous-africa-slides.html
take care!
Lisa

Authors

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  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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