'You can't even go outside': Alberta's Pigeon Lake overrun with midges

·2 min read
Non-biting midges have amassed in huge numbers around Alberta's Pigeon Lake. (Submitted by Janet Sperling - image credit)
Non-biting midges have amassed in huge numbers around Alberta's Pigeon Lake. (Submitted by Janet Sperling - image credit)

In Alberta's Pigeon Lake, cabins and cars are blanketed in quivering clumps.

The midges have taken over in swarms of almost biblical proportions and unlike anything some longtime residents say they've ever seen.

"You can't even go outside," said Allan Eliasson, who said the non-biting midges are the largest seasonal swarms he has seen in his two decades living near the central Alberta hamlet of Mulhurst.

"It's just so annoying out there. It's overwhelming. It's like a horror movie out there."

Albertans looking to get away to a lakeside cabin or camping spot might be in for a rude surprise.

Lake flies are hatching en masse around Pigeon Lake, about 100 kilometres southwest of Edmonton this week.

The insect invasion may be a nuisance for some on a summer-like weekend, but others see it as a stunning natural phenomenon.

With over 2,000 species in North America and over 600 in the Edmonton area alone, the symphony of midges is a sweet sound to an entomologist's ear.

"This is wonderful opportunity to see what great biodiversity we have," said Janet Sperling, entomologist and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Alberta.

Entomologist Janet Sperling says the midges are a sign of a healthy lake.
Entomologist Janet Sperling says the midges are a sign of a healthy lake.(Submitted by Janet Sperling)

The adults live for only a few days, dying shortly after mating. The swarming, which started about 10 days ago, will not likely last for much longer.

Most residents just call these non-biting midges annoying. But Sperling, who expects the swarms to die off in the coming days, hopes they might attract more curiosity than contempt.

She says it's likely spring conditions were primed for the insects to surface from the lake en masse. The insects drive the local ecosystem, feeding fish and birds with their abundance a sign of a healthy lake, Sperling added.

"It's just basically showing us that it's a clean lake," Sperling said. "And I'm not sure if you can hear all the birds but the birds that eat insects are just having a great time. They just open their mouth, fly along and they've got themselves a whole collection of insects to eat.

"Some people go to the Serengeti and they want to see zebras and wildebeest," Sperling added. "But as an entomologist I don't have to go anywhere, I just have to go into my own backyard and see this incredible number of non-biting midges."

Eggs are laid on the lake top with larvae feeding on tiny lake bed particles over the winter.

Sperling says the size of this spring swarm is likely a matter of timing, with conditions rife for pupae to emerge over a few days, rather than several weeks.

With insect appreciation day on June 8, Sperling says she hopes what might at first glance appear nightmarish, could inspire dreams of entomology for the next generation of curious insect appreciators.

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