toronto bug swarms

What's up with all the flying bugs in Toronto?

Toronto is smack in the middle of a giant insect orgy and we're powerless to do anything about it, says Ontario Science Centre scientist David Sugarman. Millions of tiny hovering bugs, little chironomids or midges, are performing a shameless mating ritual all over the city, filling our eyes, and mouths, and open drinks with their sex-fuelled bodies.

"When you see them, it's mating season," he says. "The ones that we're seeing, these little black ones, the males have these fuzzy antennae and sometimes they're given the nickname "muffleheads ... they don't bite people, they're just a nuisance."

The hovering masses, which often gather in shafts of sunlight or over distinctive patches of ground, are sexually active females awaiting the arrival of obliging male to share in a brief bout of coitus. Though gross, it's hard to begrudge the little insects their annual moment of passion - they typically only live for a few weeks.

The bugs live and lay eggs close to water (hence the current swarm) and provide important food for fish and other marine life. Last year's wet Fall is to blame for the current insect levels, says Sugarman.

"The reason we get huge clouds of these midges is that you can get, and this is an astounding number, four thousand larvae in a metre square, which means you could get thousands of adults emerging practically at the same time."

The "mating swarms" tend to be worse downtown because the little insects are attracted to light and are easily blown around by an onshore wind. Sugarman says setting up a bright distraction lamp during the "emergence period" (that's now) will help keep the swarm out of the way.

"You can use insecticides but that's just a sucker's game because you're going to have to keep spraying and you don't want to be exposed to those chemicals. And even those electric bug zappers that people hang up to keep mosquitos away, clouds of these things will actually clog those bug zappers, so that's not a good thing either."

The midges are due to buzz off in the next few weeks once they're done doing it, until the weather turns wet again. In all, there could be up to four mating swarms this year.

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.

Image: Ben Roffelsen/blogTO Flickr pool.


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