John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
With "Midge Forecast," Scots can safely navigate their way around clouds of teensy biting flies.
Midges are tiny biting flies that congregate in huge clouds and cover passersby with horrible trenchcoats of stabbing proboscises. Although they thrive all over the world, they are a particularly nasty problem in Scotland where 30-plus species of midges keep so many tourists at bay that the annual economy loses about £286 million.
Up to 40,000 of the little monsters can land on an unprotected person in an hour to deliver as many as 3,000 bites, which are said to be more painful and itchy than mosquito bumps. Because of the threat, more than half of Scotland's tourists vow never to come back, according to research from Edinburgh University. Just as bad, 86 percent tell their friends never to visit in the summer, when the flies are really popping.
The Scots have developed propane-fueled machines that mimic human breath to exterminate midges, but given the pests' huge numbers and evolutionary tenacity perhaps the safest strategy is avoidance. That's easier to manage these days than ever before thanks to the hard workers behind the Scottish Midge Forecast. This handy tool uses algorithms and live-catch data to show where the midges are biting, giving wayfarers a way to travel around insectoid encampments that would leave them covered in welts like a BB-shooting Gatling gun.
The Midge Forecast uses Google Maps to show danger spots rated by number: Dots marked "1" represent "negligible levels" of midges while the highest category of "5" warns of "nuisance levels" that could make life miserable. Here was the midge situation over Scotland Wednesday morning:
A zoomed-in look shows hot zones in Fort William, Glencoe and near the did-they-really-name-it Loch Lochy:
Like a good weather model should, this map gives local forecasts several days into the future for many cities, including Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh. The midges don't seem to like these urban areas, at least at the moment. But folks who wish to avoid the bugs should stay away from villages north of Oban this weekend, as the midges are predicted to come down upon the land with a Biblical vengeance.
The endeavor has a whiff of marketing behind it, being sponsored by the insect repellent Smidge. But it's undeniably useful to anyone traveling in the country. Some species of midge can transmit human diseases like leishmaniasis, a parasite that causes craterlike skin ulcers, and Pappataci fever with its chills, fatigue and severe headaches. (The bugs are also responsible for a few interesting animal afflictions, like the most dreadful "blue tongue.") The digital-cartography enthusiasts over at Google Maps Mania found the tool so useful they recently featured it, noting it would be good for outsmarting the blood-sucking flies during Scotland's "annual two days of sun."
Top image: A midge, this one a papatasi sandfly, enjoying a "blood meal" (Frank Collins, CDC / Wikipedia)