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The Politics of Nature

Sanford nature writer Bill Belleville's latest book of bittersweet essays wins National Outdoor Book Award

Photo: Bill Belleville, License: N/A

Bill Belleville

This has been going on for years now, long enough so that researchers have written papers and even chapters in books about it all. In 1987, one Florida entomologist with a sense of humor actually described the adult form of a particular species of the midge as Dicrotendipes thanatogratus – for Jerry Garcia’s former iconic rock swarm, the “Grateful Dead.”

Other bug scientists have noted that, although all the general and specific types of midges in the family Chironomidae don’t bite, they can be, well, troublesome. There is a very subjective component in this equation, and it has been described in at least one abstract as “overall midge annoyance.”

“When large numbers of adults die, they can build up into malodorous piles,” according to one report. Another points out that the larvae of midges – which to the non-scientific eye look a bit like mosquito larvae – are “very tolerant” of human-made pollution. Indeed, midge larvae enjoy the soup of microscopic plants called phytoplankton, also known as algae. Like most plants, this algae is also jolted into growth spurts by fertilizers, also known as nutrients.

It turns out the bug-light barges are also part of another study. So far, this barge research has discovered that, indeed, midges are attracted to the lights. (I’m figuring a study of my porch light might have also revealed that.) The solution? Install lights around the lake in areas where there is little or no “recreational, business or residential activity.” That is, in the swamps. When fully lit, the swamps and other wild natural areas would then “discourage migration of midge swarms to Sanford.” It is assumed overall midge annoyance would be greatly reduced.

As for the lack of dissolved oxygen in Lake Monroe, the tiny midge larvae has the capacity to swirl up from the mud to the surface for a gulp of air when needed. It seems the midge is the right animal for the right place since the City of Sanford still channels its storm-water from streets and yards via underground pipes into the lake. This has the affect of both lowering the oxygen content and raising the level of algae. As evolutionary biologists would say, the midge has found its niche.

And of course, the chemical trucks spray toxins far and wide, even though we know by now that blasting the adult midges with toxins is lame when compared to actually correcting the conditions that make the larvae robust and happy.

However, unless you’re inclined to read a text like “The Chiromomidae: Biology and Ecology of Non-Biting Midges,” you’ll likely fall into line with folks who believe that a good dose of bug spray will cure just about anything. Years ago, when the city had its own official “Midge Patrol,” that pesticide truck would participate in the annual Christmas Parade. When it did, it would get a healthy round of applause – although to the best of my knowledge, it did not actually gas the audience during the parade.

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