What Do Midge Flies Eat? Unveiling the Tiny Insect’s Diet

Midge flies are tiny insects found in various environments. You might have seen them swarming around your house or near water bodies, and you’re likely curious about their eating habits. These little creatures play an important role in the ecosystem, and understanding their diet can give you valuable insights about their behavior.

Typically, midge flies feed on algae, organic debris, and other small organisms. As larvae, they primarily consume microorganisms and particles found in the water where they live. As adults, they have a short lifespan and their main purpose is to mate and lay eggs. Some midge flies, however, might feed on nectar from flowers, which enables them to fulfill their energy requirements during their brief adult life.

It’s fascinating to see how such tiny insects can have a significant impact on the environment. Their feeding habits benefit the ecosystem by breaking down organic matter and contributing to the food chain. So, the next time you encounter midge flies, remember the essential role they play in our world.

Understanding Midge Flies

Midge flies are tiny insects belonging to the Diptera order. There are various species of midges, and they are commonly known as “no-see-ums” due to their small size. These flies exhibit distinct features like:

  • Delicate wings
  • Long antennae
  • Very small size, usually less than 1/4 inch
  • Proboscis (in biting midges) used for feeding on blood

Midges can be classified into two main categories: biting midges and non-biting midges. Both types have a preference for damp environments, like wetlands or moist soil.

Biting midges, including the infamous “no-see-ums”, possess a proboscis that enables them to feed on blood from animals and humans. Their diet mainly consists of the blood they extract from their hosts. However, not all midges bite. The non-biting midges, also known as chironomids, are harmless and their diet is quite different.

Non-biting midge flies primarily feed on organic materials found in water, decaying plant matter, and algae. They help break down and recycle organic matter in aquatic ecosystems. Some non-biting midge species’ larval stages are even bright red due to the presence of hemoglobin in their body, which aids in extracting oxygen from water.

In short, biting midges feed on blood while non-biting midges have a diet consisting of decaying organic material and algae. It’s essential to know the difference between these two types of midges to understand their impact on the environment and how to deal with them appropriately. So, while encountering midges, remember their size, wings, antennae, and feeding habits to differentiate between the no-see-ums and their harmless relatives.

Midge Fly Life Cycle

Midge flies are tiny insects that play a significant role in aquatic ecosystems. In this section, we’ll discuss their life cycle, focusing on the larvae, pupae, larval stage, and reproduction.

Midge larvae, also known as bloodworms, grow at the bottom of freshwater environments, feeding on organic material and small organisms. They are called bloodworms because of their red color, which comes from the hemoglobin within their bodies. The larval stage can last several weeks to months, depending on factors such as temperature and food availability. Midge larvae have an essential role in cleaning the water by breaking down dead and decaying organic materials.

Pupae form when midge larvae transform into a resting phase before developing into adult flies. During this stage, they stop eating and begin undergoing a significant change in their body structure. This transformation can take a few days up to weeks in some species.

Midge flies have a unique reproduction strategy. During mating swarms, male midges gather together and fly in a group, waiting for female flies to join them. Once a female fly enters the swarm, the males compete for her attention, forming a mating pair with the successful suitor. After this, females lay their eggs on the water’s surface or nearby vegetation.

The entire midge life cycle is quite adaptable, as it can take place in relatively short periods or more extended periods, depending on factors like temperature and food availability. Midges are resilient little insects, and understanding their lifecycle helps in knowing their role in maintaining healthy aquatic ecosystems.

Here’s a quick comparison of the different stages of the midge life cycle:

Life Cycle Stage Duration Characteristics
Larvae Weeks-months Red color, called bloodworms, feed on organic matter and small organisms
Pupae Days-weeks Resting phase, stop eating, significant body transformation
Adult Varies Responsible for reproduction through mating swarms

Remember, midge flies play a vital role in the aquatic ecosystem. Understanding their life cycle can help you appreciate their importance and even help you control midge populations if they become a nuisance.

Biting vs Non-Biting Midges

Biting Midges

Biting midges are small, blood-sucking flies that belong to the family Ceratopogonidae, which includes over 4,000 species worldwide 1. In North America, over 600 species in 36 genera have been described, with the majority feeding on other insects or non-human animals 2. You might know them as sand flies or biting gnats, and they can be extremely annoying during outdoor activities. Their bites can cause skin irritation and itching.

Some examples of biting midges include those from the Culicoides genus, with 47 species known to occur in Florida, and those belonging to the Leptoconops genus, found in tropical, subtropical, Caribbean, and some coastal areas 3.

Non-Biting Midges

On the other hand, non-biting midge flies, also known as “blind mosquitoes” or “fuzzy bills,” are chironomids and do not bite 4. These midges are mosquito-like in appearance, often forming swarms or clouds in the air. They commonly occur in both inland and coastal areas with natural or man-made bodies of water, such as pools or ponds 5.

Comparison Table

Feature Biting Midges Non-Biting Midges
Feeding Blood-sucking flies Do not bite or suck blood
Examples Culicoides spp., Leptoconops spp. Chironomid midges
Effects Bites cause skin irritation and itching Annoying swarms but no bites

In conclusion, it’s essential to be aware of the differences between biting and non-biting midges to understand their feeding habits and how to mitigate their impacts on your outdoor activities. While biting midges can cause skin irritation and itchiness due to their bites, non-biting midges are merely a nuisance due to their swarming behavior.

Feeding Habits

Midge flies have varying feeding habits depending on their life stages, species, and environment. Some midge larvae primarily consume and recycle organic debris, which helps improve and clean the aquatic environment they inhabit source. They also feed on algae and organic matter in water.

  • Examples of midge diet:
    • Organic debris
    • Algae
    • Organic matter (aquatic plants or animals)

Adult midges, on the other hand, have a different diet. They generally feed on nectar and sometimes plant sap to obtain the nutrients they need for survival source. However, some female midges also require a blood meal to develop their eggs, which makes them biters source. These blood-sucking midges are attracted to carbon dioxide emitted by animals, including humans, which helps them find their prey.

In summary, midges are versatile in terms of feeding habits, making them adaptable to various environments. Their diets can range from organic matter in water to nectar and blood in search of nourishment. Remember to be aware of their presence, especially if you encounter the biting kind!

Habitats and Breeding

Midge flies are common aquatic insects that can be found in a variety of environments. They typically inhabit fresh and saltwater habitats, such as ponds, streams, and wet soil around water holes and seepage areas (source). Breeding sites for midges can range from mud and intertidal sand to decaying organic matter, like seaweed washed up on beaches after storms (source).

In their natural habitats, midge larvae are bottom-feeders, consuming decaying fallen leaves and algae on the water’s surface (source).

Here are some common aquatic inhabitants that you might encounter along with midges:

  • Bottom-feeding fish
    • Catfish
    • Carp

These fish are often found in similar habitats as midges, as both species are attracted to environments with rich organic matter.

Comparing midges and bottom-feeding fish:

Midge Flies Bottom-feeding Fish
Habitat Fresh and saltwater Fresh and saltwater
Breeding Environment Mud, sand, decaying organic matter Bottom of water bodies with rich organic matter
Diet Decaying organic matter, algae Algae, plants, detritus, and smaller organisms

In summary, midge flies inhabit various aquatic habitats and breed in environments containing decaying organic material. Their diet mainly consists of decaying matter, similar to the diet of bottom-feeding fish such as catfish and carp.

Role in Food Chain

Midge flies play a crucial role in the food chain, acting as a food source for various species. For instance, their larval stage serves as a rich food source for fish. Midge fly larvae are thin, slightly curved, and can be found in various colors, like light olive green, tan, or clear, with some species being bright red due to hemoglobin molecules in their bodies source.

Being aquatic, the larvae thrive at the bottom of the lake, where they feed on organic muck. They’re relatively difficult to control, but the good news is adult midge flies are harmless, as they do not bite or transmit diseases source.

Here’s a list of some common predators that rely on midge flies as a food source:

  • Birds: Many bird species feed on midge flies, especially during the migration season.
  • Fish: Fish consume midge fly larvae, which can be a significant part of their diet.
  • Amphibians: Frogs and toads can feed on adult midge flies and their larvae.
  • Reptiles: Some reptiles, like turtles, might feed on midge fly larvae found in aquatic environments.

Midge flies can also indirectly benefit livestock as they help control pests that would otherwise be harmful to animals.

Here’s a comparison table of some predators that consume midge flies:

Species Stage of Midge Fly Consumed Habitat
Birds Adult Midge Flies Aerial, terrestrial, and aquatic
Fish Midge Fly Larvae Aquatic
Amphibians Adult Midge Flies and Larvae Terrestrial and aquatic
Reptiles Midge Fly Larvae Terrestrial and aquatic

In conclusion, midge flies contribute to various ecosystems’ balance by serving as an essential food source for diverse predators. Their larval stage has an additional advantage of helping control pests by being consumed by various animals.

Impacts on Humans & Livestock

Midge flies are known to be a nuisance to both humans and livestock. The two most significant species that affect livestock are the house fly (Musca domestica) and the stable fly (Stomoxys calcitrans). These flies are responsible for damage and control costs exceeding a billion dollars per year in the United States.

In humans, midge flies can cause allergic reactions and transmit diseases. Biting midges are a particular concern as they are known to be vectors for some diseases. They can cause itching and painful sores in some people, leading to discomfort.

Livestock, such as cattle, can suffer from significant economic losses due to midge flies. For example, the stable fly is estimated to reduce the annual milk production of 50 dairy cows by 890 kg and weight gain in calves, stockers, or feeder cattle by 58, 680, or 84 kg, respectively. In some cases, midge flies can also transmit diseases like the blue tongue virus.

Comparing the impact of midge flies on humans and livestock:

Impact Humans Livestock
Allergic Reactions Yes No
Disease Transmission Yes Yes
Economic Losses No Yes

In summary, midge flies have different effects on humans and livestock, causing allergic reactions, diseases, and economic losses. It is essential to be aware of these impacts and take appropriate preventive measures to protect both yourself and your animals from potential harm.

Control & Prevention

To manage midge flies effectively, you need to focus on controlling their breeding sites and using the right repellents. Here’s how:

Eliminate breeding sites: Midges are attracted to standing water where they lay their eggs. To combat this issue, you should:

  • Regularly clean gutters, so water does not accumulate 1.
  • Keep ponds, fountains, and other water features running to prevent stagnation.

Use larvicides: Applying larvicides specifically designed for midges can help control their population. When using these products, remember to:

  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for safe application.
  • Avoid overusing larvicides, as they can harm beneficial organisms too.

Install screening: You can protect your home and outdoor spaces by taking these measures:

  • Install fine mesh screens on windows and doors.
  • Use screened outdoor gazebos or umbrellas for additional coverage.

Apply repellents: When outdoors, consider using a DEET-based repellent to keep midges at bay. Keep in mind that:

  • DEET is a powerful and effective repellent; however, it can cause irritation in some individuals.
  • Natural alternatives, such as essential oils, may also provide some relief but are generally less effective.

Use insecticides with caution: While pesticides can help control adult midge flies, their use should be limited as they can also affect beneficial insects. When using insecticides, ensure:

  • You are targeting the midge flies specifically.
  • Apply according to the manufacturer’s instructions to minimize risk.

In conclusion, controlling midge flies involves a combination of preventative measures and targeted treatments. Implementing these strategies will help you enjoy your outdoor spaces without the nuisance of these pesky insects.

Midge Flies and Ecosystem

Midge flies, especially those from the Chironomidae family, are often mistaken for mosquitoes due to their similar appearance. However, unlike mosquitoes, midge flies do not bite. They belong to the order Diptera, along with other fly families such as Ceratopogonidae and Dixidae.

Midgew fly development consists of four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. During their larval stage, they serve as an essential food source for a variety of aquatic organisms like fish and macroinvertebrates. This makes them a key component of aquatic food chains.

Here are a few characteristics of midge flies:

  • Non-biting and harmless to humans
  • Serve as food source for other organisms
  • Indicators of environmental health

Different midge fly species have varying feeding habits. Some midge larvae feed on organic debris, while others consume algae or even prey on other small aquatic organisms. They help keep waterways clean by consuming decomposing organic matter and contributing to nutrient cycling.

Midge flies are also known to form swarms, which can become a nuisance for people. Although they don’t bite or transmit diseases like mosquitoes, they can still negatively impact our comfort and quality of life in certain situations.

In their adult stage, some midge fly species, such as those from the Ceratopogonidae family, also serve as pollinators for various plants. This makes them vital contributors to the overall health and functioning of ecosystems.

Midge fly larvae are often found in aquatic ecosystems with diverse water quality. Their presence can thus act as indicators of pollution or pollutants in the environment. Large numbers of midge fly larvae in a water body may suggest the presence of organic pollution, which helps scientists and conservationists monitor and manage aquatic ecosystems effectively.

To sum up, midge flies play essential roles in the wider ecosystem, from serving as food for other organisms to helping maintain water quality and even acting as plant pollinators. Despite the swarming nuisance they can impose on humans, their overall ecological role is undoubtedly significant.

Special Cases of Midge Flies

When it comes to midge flies, there are a few special cases that stand out from the rest. These unique midges vary in their appearance, behavior, and feeding habits.

Punkies: Also known as “biting midges” or “no-see-ums,” punkies are small midges found in North America. Unlike most midge species, these tiny insects actually do bite, feeding on the blood of humans, animals, and birds. Their bites can be painful and cause an allergic reaction in some people.

Chaoboridae: These midges are recognized by their resemblance to mosquitoes, but they have a unique feeding behavior. Their larvae are predators and feed on other small insects, while the adults do not bite or transmit diseases1. The larvae contain hemoglobin, giving them a bright red coloration2.

Thaumaleidae: This family of midge flies is mainly found in North America and Europe. Adult Thaumaleidae feed on nectar from flowers and do not bite. Their larvae, however, predate on other aquatic insects and even small fish.

Cecidomyiidae: Commonly known as “gall midges,” these insects have a fascinating feeding habit. Their larvae induce galls in plants, which are abnormal growths that provide a food source for the larvae as they develop. Some gall midges are even known to be beneficial, as they can control populations of pest insects.

Here’s a quick comparison table for these unique midge flies:

Midge Fly Family Feeding Habit (Larvae) Feeding Habit (Adults) Bite Humans Can Transmit Disease
Punkies Blood-sucking Blood-sucking Yes Possible
Chaoboridae Predatory No No No
Thaumaleidae Predatory Nectar No No
Cecidomyiidae Gall-inducing No No No

In summary, midge flies form a diverse group of insects. While most midges don’t bite or transmit diseases, some notable exceptions like punkies are blood feeders. Other special cases, such as chaoboridae, thaumaleidae, and cecidomyiidae, have unique and interesting feeding habits which make them stand out among their peers.

Footnotes

  1. https://extension.entm.purdue.edu/publichealth/insects/bitingmidge.html 2 3

  2. https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/biting-midges-and-their-control 2

  3. https://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/aquatic/biting_midges.htm

  4. https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/biology-and-control-of-non-biting-aquatic-midges

  5. https://entomology.ca.uky.edu/ef632

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, we believe, from Prince Edward Island

 

Subject: Please identify this “bug”
Location: Cavendish PEI
April 3, 2016 4:49 am
I found this bug on the beach in Cavendish PEI April02, 2016. I was set to photograph a small barnacle nearby when I saw a small black(ish) insect.
The temperature was about 8-10c and it was just starting to rain
Signature: David

Midge, we believe
Midge, we believe

Dear David,
We believe this is a Midge in the family Chironomidae, a group of non-biting relatives of Mosquitoes.  The feathered antennae indicates this is a male.

Midge, we believe
Midge, we believe

Daniel
Thank you very much for this information.  Please accept this email as my permission to use the image for your site.
With kind regards
David

Letter 2 – Midge

 

Ghost Midge?
Location: Granite Lake, Trinity Alps Wilderness, CA
August 2, 2011 12:32 pm
At Granite Lake in the Trinity Alps Wilderness we heard a scary sound of millions of bugs… worried it was mosquitoes but it was these little guys. (There were also lots of mosquitoes.) Some kind of midge I’m sure, but what kind?
Signature: -Ben

Male Midge

Hi Ben,
We agree that this is a Midge, and we will also say with confidence that it is a male Midge based on the antennae, but we have to stop short of trying to take the identification any further.  We do not have the necessary skills or resources to distinguish between species of Midges.

Letter 3 – Midge we believe

 

Subject: Unknown
Location: Manitoba, Canada
July 3, 2017 9:53 am
In a bush filled with recently emerged Hexegenia, I came across this guy that I’m having difficulty identifying.
Location: eastern Manitoba, Canada (Lac Du Bonnet area).
Signature: Darrell

Midge

Dear Darrell,
This looks like a member of the order Diptera, and we wrote to Eric Eaton for assistance, but in the meantime, we continued to research and we found this Green Midge from Canada pictured on BugGuide.  We believe this is a Midge.  Here is another BugGuide image but this individual is from California.

Letter 4 – Midges

 

Flying Insect
Taylor, MI (southeast MI)
August 31, 2010 10:40 pm
This is probably a pretty boring insect, but what in the world is this. They were hanging out by the hundreds on a window of a friend of mine?
cgp

Midges

Hi cgp,
We are not going to try to pretend we know more than what our limited understanding includes when it comes to insect identification.  These are members of the order Diptera which includes flies and mosquitoes.  They are some small gnats or midges, but we have no idea what family much less genus or species.  That would take a true expert in the area, known as a dipterist.  We can tell you that this is a pair, and the individual with the arrow pointing at him is the male.  Many male flies have highly developed antennae which are sensory organs, presumably to help them locate females.  Hopefully one of our readers will be able to provide a more specific identification.  We just noticed your email contained a second contact with additional information.

Apparently this is a chiromid midge.
— cgp

Dear cgp,
Thanks for providing us with a followup that supports our original vague identification.  We are linking to the BugGuide information page on the Chironomid Midges in the family Chironomidae.

Authors

    by
  • 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.

1 thought on “What Do Midge Flies Eat? Unveiling the Tiny Insect’s Diet”

  1. A friend of mine were walking a few nights ago in the evening on the Greenbelt in Boise Idaho when we were attacked by invisible bugs yes invisible we are covered with welts bruises and it is horrific pain from what I can gather we were attacked by what they call no see um bug which they say is a mate is this possible

    Reply

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