Insect Repellents – Frequently Asked Questions

Q What is a midge?

A Midges are tiny (usually less than 2 mm wingspan) 2 winged flies which share several features in common with their relative the mosquito.
They have been around for a long time, indeed they have been found preserved in amber going back 125 million years.

Q Do they only exist in Britain?

A There are many hundreds of different species of midges spread all over the world known by different names such as no-see-ums, punkies, moose-flies, sandflies and jejens.
Here in the UK we have but 35 species but what we lack in variety we make up for in numbers.

Q What is the correct name for a midge?

A The most prevalent midge in upland Britain is CULICOIDES IMPUNCTATUS and the lowlands have CULICOIDES OBSOLETUS other wise known as the Garden Midge.
However there are hundreds of different species.

Q Do all midges bite?

A Not all midges bite but those which do work in numbers. The evening stimulus for feeding affects large populations of pregnant and hungry females sending them into a feeding frenzy.
A number of dedicated scientists have sat it out and recorded midge bites at a rate of 2,000 to 3,000 bites an hour.

Q What is the best way to stop them biting?

A Midges show a preference for dark colours so wearing light coloured has been shown to help.
Avoid being outside during early mornings and the evening, which is often not possible and certainly not what you want when on holiday.
Apply repellent of which there are many.

Q So many repellents! How do I choose one?

A This is a big question for which there is no definitive answer.
One must weigh up ones personal preferences and what is important such as whether to go for one of the many repellents containing the harsher chemicals such as DEET or DMP or to apply an herbal repellent.

Q What is DEET and DMP and is it safe?

A DEET (diethyl toluamide) and DMP are chemicals used in the plastics industry to soften hard plastic.
When used sensibly insect repellents are safe but the potential toxicity of DEET is high and the use of repellents containing over 50% DEET should be avoided.
We are warned to keep products containing these chemicals away from plastics, spectacles, polished and painted surfaces and some synthetic clothing.
Incorrectly used they are toxic and if ingested can lead to acute poisoning. Many repellents including DEET and DMP are absorbed by the skin, passing through the liver and kidneys to reappear in the urine hours later.

The British medical journal THE LANCET has publishes cautionary advice on DEET.

Q Do herbal repellents work?

A Not all natural and herbal repellents are effective and some do contain alcohol which can be harsh on the skin. Some natural plant oils can also be toxic and irritating such as citronella so care must be taken when choosing a product.
Different oils work on different skin so there can be a bit of ‘trial and error’ involved.