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‘A little disturbing but cool’ – Chicago Tribune

No, you’re not imagining these 10-foot-high insect clouds hovering close to Lake Michigan, every teeming with 1000’s of mosquito look-alikes.

Chicago, we’ve acquired midges.

They don’t chew, they don’t hurt people, they usually emerge from lakes, streams and puddles yearly like clockwork, however the chilly grey spring of 2022 has spawned — Wouldn’t it? — a noticeable inhabitants surge.

Chicagoans report swallowing midges on lakeside runs, choosing them off their window screens and driving with open automobile home windows to air out the interlopers.

“I felt like I was in a plague,” stated Peggy Stenger, of the Printers Row neighborhood, who didn’t notice she had parked in a midge swarm till her windshield was coated in bugs.

It’s unclear precisely why that is such a superb yr for midges, in line with Allen Lawrance, an affiliate curator of entomology on the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, who famous he was talking from an workplace with a window display screen coated in — you guessed it — midges. Midge populations might be affected by climate, local weather, illness and predators.

“This year we’re seeing a pretty big outbreak,” Lawrance stated.

Midges serve an essential position in native ecosystems: Their arrival coincides with the height of spring songbird migration, they usually present meals for a variety of birds, together with flycatchers, warblers, sparrows, blackbirds and vireos.

In one of many extra spectacular midge-related phenomena of 2022, birders from the South Facet to Evanston have seen swallows swarming by the tons of to catch midges in midair.

“It looked like a tornado of swallows,” stated Kat Jercich, a author and editor who noticed swallows feeding on midges at Montrose Level Chicken Sanctuary.

In a telephone interview performed from his deck in Evanston, Josh Engel, knowledgeable birding tour chief, stated he might see a cloud of 1000’s of midges hovering, at the same time as he spoke. He estimated that he’s seen hundreds of thousands over the previous few days.

“It’s a really neat natural history phenomenon that we get to witness around here,” he stated.

As for the seemingly infinite variety of midges that coated railings at a Northwestern College parking zone throughout Engel’s latest go to: “It was pretty cool to see — a little disturbing, but cool.”

There’s a purpose midges are discovered close to the lake. Females lay eggs close to water, and the larvae really stay on the bottoms of lakes, rivers — even puddles. Like butterflies, midges undergo a whole metamorphosis, Lawrance stated, rising from a pupal section earlier than the grownup flies away.

Midges can develop in saltwater and in areas with air pollution and poor water high quality. Whereas they’re seen largely in summer season on this area, there are some species that may fly in winter.

“There’s even a species that lives in Antarctica — so they’re pretty hardy creatures,” stated Lawrance.

For midges, swarming in massive clouds is definitely a mating habits; the males emerge a bit of sooner than the females and begin to collect. Females fly into the swarms and mate with the males.

Midges solely stay about three to 11 days, and Lawrence expects that the present inhabitants surge will die down in about 10 days, with extra midges arriving over the course of spring and summer season.

“I can’t necessarily say we’re going to see another emergence this big — I think the conditions are kind of right (at the moment),” he stated.

Jercich, a Rogers Park resident who birds and runs alongside the lake, has seen remarks concerning the midges on social media, lots of them alongside the traces of “Oh man, I’m really eating bugs today.”

“People are definitely chatting about them — it’s the talk of the town,” she stated.

It’s not best to run headlong right into a cloud of bugs along with your mouth open, she stated, however she is blissful the birds have an considerable meals supply and grateful for an indication that winter is on the wane.

If the midges are right here, can hotter temperatures be far behind?

nschoenberg@chicagotribune.com

nschoenberg@chicagotribune.com



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