Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Cleveland Area’s Annoying Midges

A midge, greatly enlarged

They don’t bite. They don’t sting. But they can still annoy. They’re midges (some call them muckleheads), and every year around this time when it starts to warm up, they come out in full force. And sometimes in the fall they return again if the conditions are right.

These insects are largely ignored, until they come out in such numbers that they can’t be avoided. Just ask anyone who played in the October 2007 Cleveland Indians vs. New York Yankees playoff game, when a freak mass swarming of midges into Jacob’s Field (now Progressive Field) seemed to completely unnerve the New York Yankees. The Yankees were close to tying the series when the insects descended, like something out of a horror film. Yankee team members complained of bugs in their hair, nose, ears, well, just about any place a tiny bug can get. Some of the Yankees tried to spray themselves with insect repellent to no avail.

This wasn’t the first swarm of midges into the ballpark, but it was one whose timing was impeccable. The Yankees lost the game. Score one for the bugs.

Last spring, the midges were so bad that when my husband returned from work downtown, the front of his car was so covered in midges it looked like the car had grown fur. He said while that driving home on the Shoreway he had passed through many dense clouds of midges. I immediately took his car to the drive through car wash, not wishing to touch the car myself. (I still shudder just thinking about it.) I also used to work in the Tower at Erieview, and one morning during my first spring working there, I came in to the office and opened my blinds to find the window almost black, covered with moving midges. Thankfully they were all outside, but it was still a shock.

But, while many people living in the Cleveland area probably have their own midge encounter, many may not really understand much about these harmless bugs.

There are many kinds of midges (in the family Chironomidae), and they can be found worldwide, having over 700 species in North America alone. They have no mouths and no stinger, so they are really of no harm to people. Their nuisance is just in their sheer numbers. They spend most of their life as just larvae near the Lake Erie shoreline, and hatch usually in large numbers when the temperature, humidity, and light are just right. Midges are an excellent food source for fish, and the larvae also help keep lakes clean by consuming organic debris. They are also highly attracted to light and bug zappers. So, if you know there was a midge hatching, keep your outdoor lights off and your bug zapper either off or away from where you plan to be, because it will only attract them to you.

Here are two videos on midges. The first is a little more educational, and shows the life cycle of a midge. The second is a video taken by someone at the Indian/Yankees playoff game, which, if you can stand a little shaky-cam, gives you an idea of how the Yankees, and the crowd, handled The Attack of the Harmless Midges.

So that’s it for Cleveland’s secret weapon, the midges. Don’t say you haven’t been warned!

Learn about Midges

The Midges, I mean The Indians vs. the New York Yankees

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