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BLOG: Midges vs. mayflies: Let’s clear the air and the confusion

Midges, mayflies, muckelheads, this can all be very confusing. And all of them can be very annoying. We’d like to help clarify a bit of the current bug conundrum.

Let’s start here: There are midges (also known as muckleheads), and there are mayflies. They are different, but they’re both related to the quality of our Great Lake.

Midges and muckleheads

The shores of Lake Erie have been teeming with these little guys lately—muckleheads. Fox 8 meteorologist Scott Sabol has shared a few updates over the last week.

twitter.com/scottsabolfox8

We verified his total. He was off by three.

But what are these pesky buggers? These are known as muckleheads or midges. Or if you want to impress friends, call them Chironomidae.

WIkipedia

They hatch over Lake Erie in the spring and fall and make their way inland. They don’t bite and they’re not harmful, but they can still be a nuisance during a beach barbeque. According to our Senior Investigator Ron Maichle, they are organisms of interest because they have varying tolerance of pollution. The Sewer District does collect macroinvertebrates to study water quality, but we do not study the adult midge population.

“The [pollution] tolerance of the midges are very specific to the species,” Ron said. And with over 10,000 species worldwide, there are a lot of variables. They don’t stick around more than about two weeks, and there are steps you can take if they’re really on your nerves.

So that covers midges. What about mayflies?

Mayflies

Mayflies are our friends, at least from a water-quality perspective.

cleveland.com file photo

We’ll see more of them hitting Cleveland later this month. Mayflies are indicators of improving water quality in Lake Erie. The Sewer District collected Lake Erie samples in 2011 and 2012 to study mayfly populations in collaboration with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, but some of those samples are still being analyzed and results are not yet final. Like midges, they’re not harmful, and they’re not pleasant when their carcases start piling up on your porch, but they’re short-lived, too.

So don’t get the two confused. The Plain Dealer’s handy graphic from a while back is a good comparison of the mayfly versus the midge.

Of course, while midges and mayflies both have a tendency to annoy, midges will always have a special place in our Cleveland hearts.

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