Swat, swat, swat: Scourges of mosquitoes and midges swarming in Edmonton

Massive swarms of blood-sucking mosquitoes don’t just exist in your nightmares, warns the city of Edmonton’s resident pest expert.

'You're basically giving them a buffet'

A mosquito does its mosquito thing on a human. (James Gathany/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Massive swarms of blood-sucking mosquitoes don't just exist in your nightmares, warns Edmonton's resident pest expert.

Mob-like attacks by the bugs are far from unheard of in Alberta, said city entomologist Mike Jenkins.

Scourges of the tiny bugs have been known to attack unwitting Edmontonians, usually in the darkest corners of the river valley or deep in the woods on the outskirts of the city.

"Largely these would be female mosquitoes that are out looking for a blood meal, so if you're the largest and warmest source of blood around, they'll all end up coming towards you," Jenkins said in an interview Wednesday with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"You're basically giving them a buffet."

Mosquitoes often "find a place to rest" in shady, damp areas during the day, Jenkins said. If someone happens to disturb the snoozing skeeters, they may end up covered in bites.

"The mosquitoes are actually hiding for the day, they're in the grass, they're in the bushes, they're in the trees," said Jenkins who is swarmed regularly during his field work in the Alberta bush. "If you move into that area and disturb them, then the swarm comes out.

"Even though they're resting, they'll take a chance for a blood meal."

'Huge, huge cloud'

Jenkins said while common mosquitoes will attack by the hundreds, swarming behaviour is more common among lake midges, also known as lake flies.

Midges look a lot like mosquitoes but do not bite. (ChinellatoPhoto/Shutterstock)

Even though they don't bite, midges have a strong physical resemblance to mosquitoes — making them much more terrifying for those who become the target of a swarm.

"They can emerge in huge swarms," said Jenkins. 

"Millions and millions of these insects coming out of lakes, even creeks and streams. Even some of the stormwater ponds, especially in north Edmonton, can produce huge numbers of these lake flies."

Often misidentified as swarming mosquitoes, the midges will attack as part of their annual mating dance.

As a way to find a potential partner, the bugs will congregate around the tallest feature on the landscape whether it's a tree, a light pole or an unsuspecting person.

"If you're walking through a field and you're the tallest thing around, they'll head straight for you and basically dance above your head, doing their mating displays," he said. 

They will land on you, climb on you and get in your ears.- Mike Jenkins, Edmonton city entomologist

"You'll end up with these huge, huge clouds following you around. They will land on you, climb on you and get in your ears ... but they're not actually biting."

While mosquito mobs can be avoided by covering up and wearing plenty of DEET-based repellent, lake flies are basically unavoidable, Jenkins said.

"Pretty much all they're focusing on is how tall you are ... so just run."