Midge Fly: All You Need to Know for Effective Control and Prevention

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Midge flies, often mistaken for mosquitoes, are small, dainty insects that offer several environmental benefits. These true flies, belonging to the Chironomidae family, possess only one pair of wings, long skinny legs, and are relatively soft-bodied. Although they resemble mosquitoes, midges do not bite humans and are typically found near water sources like streams, lakes, and rivers, mating and laying their eggs in these environments.

An essential element in the food chain, midge flies serve as a food source for fish and aquatic insects. Some species can even indicate the presence of excessive organic matter in bodies of water, which suggests potential pollution issues. In contrast to mosquitoes, midges hold their first pair of legs forward and upward while resting, making it simpler to differentiate between the two.

Midge Fly Basics

Characteristics

Midge flies, also known as midges or non-biting midges, belong to the family Chironomidae within the order Diptera. These insects resemble mosquitoes but do not bite humans. They have a short proboscis and are soft-bodied, with a size range of 1/32 to 1 3/8 inch in length1.

Midges have long legs and varying antennae – feathered in females and bushy in males2. While at rest, midges tend to hold their first pair of legs forward and upward3.

Diversity of Species

There are a diverse range of midge fly species4. Some examples include:

  • Chironomus riparius: A common species found in North America, often used in ecological studies.
  • Polypedilum vanderplanki: Found in Africa, this species can survive extreme dehydration.
Feature Mosquitoes Midge Flies
Proboscis length Longer Shorter
Bite humans Yes No
Antennae (female) Thin, non-feathered Feathered
Antennae (male) Thin, non-feathered Bushy
Resting leg position Not specific First pair forward and upward

Life Cycle of Midge Flies

Larvae

Midge flies, like many other insects, undergo a complete metamorphosis during their life cycle, starting with the larval stage. Eggs laid by adult females hatch into larvae, which live in aquatic habitats and feed on organic matter. The larvae are usually found at the bottom of water bodies, within the muck:

  • Size: Small, around 1-4mm long
  • Color: Often red or green; sometimes transparent
  • Shape: Worm-like, with distinct segments

The larval stage lasts around 3 days to a week, with the midge larva molting several times as it grows.

Pupae

After they have fully developed, midge larvae transform into pupae. The pupal stage serves as a transitional phase between the larva and adult stages:

  • Location: Near the surface of the water
  • Duration: Approximately 1 to 4 days
  • Characteristics: Inactive and non-feeding

During this stage, the midge develops its adult features within a protective case.

Adults

As the pupal stage comes to an end, adult midge flies emerge from the water and take flight. The adult midge flies have several distinguishable traits:

  • Size: Small, with a wingspan around 2-4mm
  • Wings: One pair, long and narrow
  • Legs: Long, skinny legs, often held forward and upward
  • Antennae: Males often possess feathery antennae for sensing female wing sounds

As adults, midge flies do not bite, despite their preference for organic matter. Adult midges mate, and females then lay thousands of eggs, marking a new beginning for the midge fly life cycle.

Life Stage Length Features Habitat
Larva 1-4 mm Worm-like, red or green Bottom of water bodies
Pupa Not specified Inactive, non-feeding Near the water surface
Adult 2-4 mm (wingspan) Non-biting, feathery antennae (males) Air, over water sources

Midge Fly Habitat

Freshwater Environments

Midge flies, particularly those in the family Chironomidae, are commonly found in freshwater environments like ponds, streams, lakes, and rivers. They thrive in these habitats due to the ample food supply and optimal conditions for reproduction. For example, midge flies are frequently seen around lakes in North America.

  • Habitat features:
    • Freshwater sources
    • Abundant food supply
    • Ideal conditions for reproduction

Seasonal Changes

Midge fly populations tend to increase during specific times of the year, influenced by factors such as temperature and water availability. In North America, midge fly populations often rise during the winter months. As temperatures drop, the water temperature in lakes, ponds, and rivers can become more stable, providing a suitable environment for midge larvae to develop.

  • Characteristics of midge fly populations in winter:
    • More stable water temperatures
    • Enhanced larval development
    • Increased population sizes

Comparison of Midge Fly Populations in Winter and Summer

Season Population Size Water Temperature Larval Development
Winter Larger More stable Enhanced
Summer Smaller Less stable Reduced

Midge flies adapt well to various environmental conditions, allowing them to be successful in many freshwater habitats and through seasonal changes. Understanding their habitat preferences and population trends can help manage these insects more effectively.

Fly Fishing for Midge Flies

Midge Fly Patterns

Midge flies are diverse, and their patterns vary. Some popular midge fly patterns include:

  • Midge Larva: Imitates the larval stage of midges and is usually a small, slender fly.
  • Midge Pupa: Resembles the pupal stage, often incorporating a small bead to represent the emerging insect.
  • Midge Nymph: Mimics the juvenile stage of certain midge species and can include elements like a thin body and flashy accents.

In order to “match the hatch,” use fly patterns that imitate what the fish are feeding on at the time. Some common midge patterns include midges (small, sinking flies), dry flies (small to medium floating flies), and streamers (larger, heavier flies).

Techniques and Tips

  • Indicator Fishing: Use a strike indicator (e.g., a small foam float) on your leader to detect subtle takes.
  • High Sticking: Keep your rod high and minimize slack line to feel the strike and maintain control.
  • Long Leaders: Opt for a longer leader length to help the fly sink and provide a more natural drift.
  • Thin Tippets: Choose a thin tippet material to reduce visibility, as midges are small and trout can be wary.

Example: A popular method for midge fly fishing is using a tandem rig, where a midge larva is fished as the bottom fly, and a midge pupa or emerger is fished as the top fly.

Essential Gear

Key items for midge fly fishing include:

Gear Purpose
Fly Rod A lightweight rod for accurate casting
Fly Reel A reel that balances with the rod
Fly Line A thin line to match the rod
Leader & Tippet A long leader and thin tippet for stealth
Midge Fly Patterns Flies to imitate the various stages
Strike Indicator A float for detecting subtle takes
Forceps For removing hooks from fish
Fly Box Storage for various midge patterns

Remember, midge fly fishing can require precision and patience, but the rewards are well worth the effort when you hook into a beautiful trout or other fish.

Midge Fly Imitations

Popular Patterns

Midge flies are a vital food source for fish, and many fly patterns imitate these small insects to attract fish. Some popular midge fly patterns include:

  • Zebra Midge: A simple and effective pattern that imitates midge larvae and pupae, often tied with a slender body and ribbed with wire.
  • Griffith’s Gnats: A classic dry fly pattern that imitates adult midges, featuring a peacock herl body and hackle for the wings and legs.
  • Rainbow Warrior: A flashy nymph pattern with a colorful bead and flashabou thorax to attract fish, great for fishing in both clear and off-color water.
  • Top Secret Midge: Designed by Pat Dorsey, this pattern imitates emerging midges with a slim body and segmented thorax.

Tying Techniques

Midge fly imitations can be created using various tying techniques, each focusing on specific parts of the pattern:

  • Dubbing: A method for creating the body of the fly, using materials like peacock herl, thread, or synthetic dubbing. A slender, tapered body is crucial for midge imitations.
  • Ribbing: Adding contrasting material like wire or tinsel to the fly’s body to create segmentation. Zebra midges often use silver or colored ribbing.
  • Wings and Legs: Small fibers or hackle can be used to imitate wings and legs, adding lifelike movement to the pattern. Griffith’s gnats utilize hackle to imply wings and legs.
  • Beads and Flash: Incorporating bead heads or flashy materials like flashabou can help attract fish, especially in nymph patterns like the Rainbow Warrior and Disco Midge.

Midge fly patterns can be fished year-round, as midges are present in various life stages throughout the year. Adapting your pattern and presentation to match the local hatch or conditions will increase your chances of success. Remember to keep these imitations small, as midges are a favorite food source for many fish species due to their size.

Midge Fly Predators and Prey

Natural Predators

Midge flies have several natural predators, including:

  • Fish (e.g., trout)
  • Birds
  • Other insects (such as dragonflies)

One trait making midge larvae resilient is their ability to secure oxygen in low dissolved oxygen environments using hemoglobin. This ability limits the number of predators that can survive alongside them.

Prey Items for Fish

Midge flies, especially their larvae (also known as bloodworms), are an essential part of many freshwater fish diets, including trout. They serve as a rich source of protein, making them a crucial aspect for anglers and fish enthusiasts alike.

Fish Diet Items
Trout Bloodworms (Midge larvae)
Other Freshwater Fish Bloodworms (Midge larvae)

Overall, midge flies and their larvae play an essential role in aquatic ecosystems, impacting predator and prey relationships among fish and other species.

Midge Fly Control

Natural Methods

  • Predators: Encourage natural midge predators like birds, fish, and dragonflies to the area.
    • Example: Installing birdhouses or bat boxes can help attract predators that feast on midges.
  • Water circulation: Increase water circulation in ponds or lakes to disrupt midge breeding.
    • Example: Installing fountains or aerators can help prevent midge larvae from thriving.

Artificial Methods

  • Insecticides: Apply biological insecticides to affected bodies of water.
    • Pros:
      • Effective in reducing midge populations
      • Can target specific species
    • Cons:
      • May not provide long-term control
      • Can impact non-target species
  • Traps: Use light traps or bug zappers to attract and eliminate adult midges.
    • Pros:
      • Can quickly reduce the number of adult midges
      • Non-toxic and chemical-free
    • Cons:
      • May not effectively control breeding populations
      • Can also kill beneficial insects
Method Pros Cons
Predators Environmentally friendly May take time to see results
Water circulation Disrupts breeding process May not be feasible in large bodies of water
Insecticides Effective in reducing populations May not provide long-term control
Traps Non-toxic and chemical-free May not control breeding populations

Midges come in various colors such as red, black, and brown. They are distinguishable by the antennae of the males, which are often feathery or bushy. They are commonly found in bodies of water and can form swarms or clusters. Midge fly control is essential to prevent large swarms from becoming a nuisance, especially in areas near the west and south Platte River.

Footnotes

  1. Midges | Home & Garden Information Center

  2. Biology and Control of Non-Biting Aquatic Midges

  3. Midges | Missouri Department of Conservation

  4. Midges Midge Flies; Non-Biting Midges; Blind Mosquitoes | MDC Teacher

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 – Snow Midge

 

Male Midge – Chironomidae
Location: Utah, 6,000 feet
March 5, 2011 11:29 am
I see several insects in the winter, as the weather begins to warm up. On this walk I took, I found several of these little black, fuzzy antenna insects. I perused your site, as well as another site that talks about insects, and think I’ve identified it as a Male non-biting Midge.
This was taken in Utah, at about 6,000 ft. on March 4.
Signature: Wendy

Snow Midge

Hi Wendy,
Your identification is correct.  We are pleased to hear that you are using internet resources to research your identification requests and that our site was a component of your research.  Though we have photos of Midges on our website, your photo is the first Snow Midge we have received.  BugGuide has an excellent image of a male Snow Midge that matches your image.  We also found a very nice Nature Post on Snow Midges on the Abundant Nature website.

Letter 2 – Midges

 

Subject: Spring southern ohio
Location: mason ohio 45040
March 24, 2014 1:52 pm
We live in Mason Ohio, a northern suburb of Cincinnati. We had a swarm (or just a large grouping maybe – I don’t want to use incorrect term) of these in our front yard. They seemed to be in pairs, rear end to rear end, probably mating. We live 50 feet from a perennial stream which flows year round. The event and associated photo happened on 3/14/2014. We just emerged from a very long cold weather pattern.
Signature: chuck

Midges
Midges

Hi Chuck,
These appear to be Midges, non-biting relatives of Mosquitoes.

Letter 3 – Midges

 

Subject: Please Help!! Invasion. Pest control has no clue
Location: Pooler, GA (next to Savannah)
April 6, 2016 2:22 pm
Hello, after going through 2 pest control companies we are still invaded by a bug that just won’t go away. From April to about mid October, everyday, we had thousand of the bug in picture. during winter no problem and now for about 2 days they are coming back. Please help identify this bug. They are all over our entrance door.
Signature: Desperate person

Midge
Midge

Dear Desperate person,
We believe these are Midges, non-biting relatives of Mosquitoes from the family Chironomidae.  The plumose antennae on the individual in the close-up image indicates that is a male Midge. This BugGuide image of a member of the genus
Chironomus looks quite close.  According to BugGuide:  “Larvae are usually found in sediments, and can occur in highly polluted conditions or in relatively clean water. Larvae of the Ch. decorus group, Ch. riparius and Ch. stigmaterus are most often associated with high nutrient/low oxygen conditions.”  Do you live near a pond or swamp?  That might be the source of your problem.

Midges
Midges

Hello Daniel,
Thank you for your answer. Yes, I have a pond on the back side of my yard and there is a swamp behind the houses across the steer from me. However, from all the houses I was the only one with the bugs 🙁
Hopefully this will help find a fix. Thanks again!!
Caroline

Hi again Caroline,
If your house is the only one experiencing this problem, try to identify what makes your house different.  The light color paint on the walls and ceiling might be attracting the Midges, so a darker color might not be as attractive to them.  Is there a light that is left on?  That might also be a factor.

No, there is no light on. They actually come during the day and leave at night… We took all our pine straws away and underneath was pretty moist. I am hoping this was the issue. I saw some last week and started to panic at the idea that I would have to see these bugs everyday for the next 6 months. Another thing I noticed is that they do not come after it rained. But 24h after and they are back.

Letter 4 – Non-Biting Midge

 

Subject: Whats this bug?
Location: Northeast Ohio
March 28, 2014 2:56 pm
Trying to identify this insect because theres thousands of them all over my new fence. Its early spring now and we just had our fence installed the beginning of winter.
Signature: Charles Speelman

Non-Biting Midge
Non-Biting Midge

Dear Charles,
This looks like a Non-Biting Midge to us, and the feathery antennae indicate that it is a male.  According to BugGuide, Midges are:  “Small, delicate flies, resemble mosquitoes but do not bite. Often ‘dance’ in large swarms over water or lawns.”  You can compare your individual to this image on BugGuide.

Letter 5 – Unknown Midge from Australia

 

ID please
June 17, 2010
Took pics of this bug last week. Lake Tinaroo up on the Atherton Tablelands above Cairns, Far North Queensland. I seems to have moth like antennae but a mosquito like body.
Thanks
Andy MacDougall
atherton highlands, tropical north queensland

Midge

Hi Andy,
This is a Midge in the family Chironomidae, and it is a male judging by his feathery antennae.  We do not have the necessary skills to further classify this Midge to the genus or species level, but we have linked to a similar image on BugGuide for reference.

Letter 6 – Water Midge

 

Flying insect surrounds my house & car
Sun, May 31, 2009 at 7:02 AM
This little bug showed up what seemed to be over night. I first noticed it Friday morning all over my screen door. When I went out they seemed to be swarming like gnats. Then when I got to my car they seemed to be crawling all over it. The pictures don’t show the color well but it is a clearish light green.
If you need more pictures I can send them.
Jason
Mt. Vernon Indiana

Water Midge
Water Midge

Dear Jason,
This appears to be a Water Midge in the family Chironomidae, probably the genus Chironomus.  The aquatic larvae of some species are known as Bloodworms and are sold frozen as tropical fish food, a favorite of our Angelfish and Rams.  BugGuide has many excellent images of Midges.  Charles Hogue in Insects of the Los Angeles Basin writes:  “Small clouds of males are frequently seen hovering in the air over or near water. At times they form larger clouds that look like smoke over trees or tall structures;  these aggregations are attractive to females and are the chief mating strategy of many species.  Tremendous numbers may also gather around lights on warm summer enenings.”

Letter 7 – Water Midges

 

swarming bugs
We live in NH. Every summer evening before sunset these bugs appear in
swarms of thousands, usually in a tight, stationary "tower" maybe 2 feet across and up to 8 feet tall. They don’t bite and can’t be chased away. If they set up a "tower" over a table, and the table is moved, they will move with the table. They never, ever sit still or land so photos are difficult, but I managed to get the attached which might help. If they’re going to share our back yard with us, we’d like to know what to call them.
Thanks,
John C

Hi John,
It sounds like you have Water Midges from the Family Chironomidae. The larvae develop in shallow areas of lakes, ponds and streams where there is a heavy growth of aquatic plants. Adults emerge in such numbers as to be a nuisance, but fortunately, they do not bite. According to Hogue: “Small clouds of males are frequently seen hovering in the air over or near water. At times, they form larger clouds that look like smoke over trees or tall structures; these aggregations are attractive to females and are the chief mating strategy of many species. Tremendous numbers may also gather around lights on warm summer evenings.”

Authors

  • 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.

    View all posts
  • 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.

    View all posts
Tags: Midge Fly

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1 Comment. Leave new

  • I was looking to find out what fer little midge type bug i’d been seeing around my fish pond all winter, Now i know and I’m in central Pa.

    Reply

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