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

Posted by Chris Bateman / May 8, 2014

toronto bug swarmsToronto 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.



Noodle578 / May 8, 2014 at 07:37 am
I was studying at Queen's, and I saw this annual occurrence along the Kingston waterfront.
Not only was it a GLORIOUS two-week stint of "getting your midge on", it was immediately followed up by a two-week INVASION of spiders in the city to clean up the mess.
KevinN / May 8, 2014 at 08:58 am
Just carry around a broom with you lol.
Ink replying to a comment from Rafa / May 8, 2014 at 09:06 am
HURR HURR, who's a funny guy?
jackson / May 8, 2014 at 09:09 am
Yep. I grew up in Kingston, we called these May Flies, there was literally trillions of these if you lived by the water. You'd be covered in them and swallow about 500 a day for the month of May. Welcome them to Toronto!
Brie / May 8, 2014 at 09:32 am
Are you sure they don't bite? My itchiness around them is purely psychosomatic?
SnuggleBunny / May 8, 2014 at 09:46 am
as i understand it, they prefer not to be call midges, but rather, little flies
emote_control replying to a comment from jackson / May 8, 2014 at 10:17 am
Actually mayflies are a different species, much larger. But they also have explosive mating events like this.
hmmm / May 8, 2014 at 10:21 am
I always wanted to have coitus with Midge from Riverdale.

Good to know shes a slut.
kristenleigh / May 8, 2014 at 11:02 am
That is the most awesome lede. Well done.
kioch / May 8, 2014 at 11:42 am
I think I eat at least 2 during my morning run.
nice try replying to a comment from kioch / May 8, 2014 at 11:59 am
Who you feeling, you don't run.
NOOOOO replying to a comment from jackson / May 8, 2014 at 12:23 pm
c replying to a comment from hmmm / May 8, 2014 at 01:58 pm
I see what you did there, well done
c / May 8, 2014 at 02:00 pm
oops that was actually in response to SnuggleBunny
Toronto Hipster / May 8, 2014 at 02:01 pm
This is all Rob Ford's fault!
Mel / May 8, 2014 at 02:11 pm
I've always called these things gnats. Everyone seems to forget about them until one day you see one. The next day, you see 2. By the 3rd day there are thousands, and by the end of a week you can't leave your house without getting a mouth full of them.
Donna / May 8, 2014 at 03:02 pm
Imagine what all these bugs think about all of us roaming around their earth????
Poisonourplanet / May 8, 2014 at 04:58 pm
Likely due to the large scale cloud seeding g going on in ontario
immalovinit / May 8, 2014 at 08:05 pm
We have especially high numbers of gnats? I have only seen some down at the Scarborough Bluffs so far. We have an especially good variety of birds at our feeders this spring. Is this a good bug year that is making it a good bird year? Anyway, hopefully the monarch butterflies will come back. We had practically none last year.
Kym / May 9, 2014 at 12:26 am
I always called them gnats, too. I have a friend who calls them mayflies. well, I don't care what they are-they bug me. can't wait til it's safe to breathe outside without them.
muggsy / May 9, 2014 at 07:48 am
I don't think they're gnats or mayflies. They look like tiny long slender houseflies with long slender wings. Very bizarre.
Richard replying to a comment from muggsy / May 9, 2014 at 02:36 pm
The name of the insect is in the article, muggsy. This isn't a mystery.
Mike / May 11, 2014 at 08:28 pm
I live right near the lake on front street and these little buggers are always buzzing around my balcony! There honestly is no point having a balcony in downtown. I don't know when their mating season is going to end but I really hope it's soon! / March 23, 2015 at 02:59 am
Your style is so unique compared to other folks
I have read stuff from. Thank you for posting when you've got the opportunity,
Guess I will just book mark this blog.
Natasha / May 6, 2015 at 09:08 pm
I also lived out in the Northumberland area, and have tried to explain Mayflies to people in Toronto who think they are the same thing. I personally dislike Mayflies SO much more than these buggers.
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