By Kirsty Topping
Experts say the many feet of snow that covered the land for weeks acted as an insulating layer for midge larvae.
Instead of being killed off by the million as a result of ground frost, the blood-sucking insects were kept alive in record numbers by a protective blanket of snow.
The scene is now set for an unprecedented summer of torment in the Highlands as thick clouds of midges feast on their human prey.
Dr Alison Blackwell runs the Scottish midge forecast website, which predicts the prevalence of the pest based on weather forecasts.
She said hopes that the atrocious winter weather would reduce the midge menace had proved wrong.
“We thought that a hard ground frost would kill the midge larvae off as they hibernate because we know that they die if you put them in a freezer,” she said.
But the opposite has turned out to be true. “One theory is that the snow protects them to a degree because we think it may insulate the ground from the harder frosts,” said Dr Blackwell.
Dr Blackwell said if Scotland had a wet spring it was possible that each one of their midge traps could collect 2kgs of the insects in a single night this summer.
At 8,000 midges per gram, that equates to 16 million midges at one location.
Dr Blackwell said the normal figure would be in the region of just 20,000 insects.
Dr Andy Evans, of the Scottish Agricultural College, agreed that the heavy snowfall had created the conditions for people to be attacked by “clouds” of midges.
He said: “People will have to be prepared to be bombarded.
“In a normal year people are only really aware of the midges when they come in and find they’ve been bitten.
“This year we have the potential for people to find clouds of them flying round their heads.”
Peter Fraser, vice president of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association and a working gamekeeper, said it would be a tough summer for Highland workers as well as visitors.
“If you are stalking and waiting for a stag to rise up you are committing to staying in one spot for hours and they get on your hands and work up your arms,” he said. “Only the really hardy will put up with that.”
But the midge explosion will be good news for some.
The Green Welly Stop, Tyndrum, sells nets, hats, full body suits, sprays and electrical devices to midge victims.
General manager Iain Wilkie said some customers look like “they’ve got the measles” after midge attacks.
He said: “We all make money from the midge. Midges are a very lucrative part of our business.
“You see the poor souls from the West Highland Way. Most tourists don’t understand what it is. They think it’s like a mosquito and they don’t realise that they come in swarms. They don’t understand until they are out on a nice summer evening.”
George Hendry, author of Midges in Scotland said: “The experts are probably right. It’s not going to be a good summer and the midges are going to be up and running early.”
He added: “They may put some people off visiting Scotland but not many. They are always with us and they are not going to go away – it’s just something we just have to put up with.”
And Dr Blackwell said taking a few simple measures could reduce the torment this summer.
“People should wear long sleeved tops and trousers instead of going around in shorts and t-shirts. A good repellent is key.
“They like dark colours and hot, sweaty people; the worst thing you can do is start jumping up and down in a swarm of them.”