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Monster midge experiment hailed a success

A research team from the University of Aberdeen and Rothamsted Research has completed an historic survey that could pave the way for the production of the most effective natural midge repellent on the market. The team has invented a revolutionary new product which it hopes will prove the most effective weapon in the war against the midge and provide welcome relief to the millions of people throughout the UK that suffer at the hands of the midge.

Prof Jenny Mordue and Nell McAndrewThe research team joined forces with transport giant FirstGroup in the search for ways to combat the dreaded midge.  The team surveyed around 400 competitors and spectators at the First Monster Challenge, a 120km team relay duathlon around the shores of Loch Ness, an event organised and managed by Aberdeen based FirstGroup.  

Alltsigh, near Drumnadrochit, Inverness, played host to the experiment.  The team set up on Thursday Sept 18th and concluded their experiments on Sunday. Leading the team was Jenny Mordue, a Professor in the Zoology Department at the University of Aberdeen and an expert in pest control and the behaviour of midges.

“We are very pleased with our four day experiment and survey,” reflected Professor Mordue.  “The main element of the experiment focused on the First Monster Challenge competitors.  It provided a unique opportunity to use competitors as volunteers - the increased levels of carbon dioxide from competitor’s heavy breathing is one of the key elements that attracts midges to humans.”  

The experiment trialled a new midge repellent based on natural chemicals discovered by partners, the University of Aberdeen and Rothamsted Research, and formulated as a puffer repellent by Atrium Innovation. Two tents were used to test the repellent.  Each tent incorporated an electric ‘killing grid’ that burned midges as they tried to enter allowing the researchers to count midge numbers.   In addition a large survey was undertaken with competitors and spectators.  Its purpose was to conclude what traits attract midges to humans, for example, age, diet, gender etc.
“Throughout the four days at Alltsigh there were plenty of midges for us to do our experiments,” said Professor Mordue, who has spent many years collaborating with Rothamsted Research on the project.  “The weather was good for midges with still, cloudy and humid conditions that brought the midges out in the daytime to bite the athletes and spectators. We carried out 50 experiments and our specially designed killing grids at the entrance to our tents zapped midges at a rate of up to 1600 an hour.  

Professor Mordue went on to explain that the research team aims to publish the results in scientific and medical journals.  “The trial at the First Monster Challenge was the final focus of our 5 year long study into our novel midge repellent.  Our task now is to analyse the results from the weekend and merge them with our other studies.  In six months we hope to publish our results and also conclude once and for all what human traits attract midges to humans.”

The First Monster Challenge attracted a number of celebrities including TV presenter and fitness enthusiast Nell McAndrew.  Nell was one of the competitors that took part in the midge trials.  “I can well remember the midge problem at the First Monster Challenge last year.  One poor guy suffered over 100 bites!  However, that does not seem so bad when the Professor told me during the trial, that in the right conditions up to 40,000 midges can land on an unprotected arm in one hour!  The First Monster Challenge is an excellent event, I wish the research team every success and hope that next year their revolutionary repellent is on the market and all us competitors will be protected from the menace of the midge at Monster 09.”

FirstGroup is the host and organiser of the First Monster Challenge.  Its Chief Executive, Sir Moir Lockhead, said: “Midges were a problem at one of our transition points in Monster 07.  The weather conditions were ripe for midges, and added to which the increased levels of carbon dioxide from our competitor’s heavy breathing, is unfortunately one of the key elements that attracts midges to humans.  

“We are striving to make the First Monster Challenge as successful as possible,” he added.  “Consequently, we teamed up with the University of Aberdeen to trial techniques aimed at safeguarding the health and sanity of our participants!”

The midge remains an ongoing threat to the Scottish Tourist Industry as ‘Mr Loch Ness’, Willie Cameron, a Loch Ness tourism expert explains: “The dreaded midge has been the scourge of millions of tourists to Scotland.  A report a few years ago estimated that the midge cost the economy in the region of £280m every year.  If we could all but eradicate the midge, or at least better protect people, we can attract even more tourists to what is unquestionably the most amazing and stunning location in the UK.”

The First Monster Challenge took place on 13th September around the shores of Loch Ness.  In teams of four each competitor completed two legs of the eight-legged event - one 20km cycle and one 10km run.  Personalities Nell McAndrew, Ben Fogle, Liz McColgan and Gavin Hastings all participated in the event, which raised money for First’s charity partners, Save the Children. For more information, log on to 

The Midge Fast Facts

The Scottish Economy
·        14 million tourists trips are made to Scotland each year, worth £2.5 billion. Visitors to the Highlands spend £400 million per year in the region.
·        The peak Midge season of around May to September directly matches the Scottish tourist season.
·        Midges cost the tourist industry an estimated £286m per year.
·        Midge attacks can result in the loss of up to one fifth of all forestry working days in Scotland.
·        Children’s summer camps in the Highlands have on occasions had to be abandoned because of midges and outdoor activity centres frequently have to re-plan their programmes around midge activity.
·        When Princess Anne opened the Loch Ness Visitor Centre in 2002 she said: “Visitors to Scotland see the country as near-perfect, apart from the X-factor – the midge.”

The Gory Facts
·        A swarm of midges can deliver approximately 3,000 bites an hour
·        Researchers have estimated that in an hour, up to 40,000 midges can land on an unprotected person
·        A female midge can detect people from a range of up to 100 metres.  Midges are attracted to the carbon dioxide vapours and other chemicals released from human breath and the skin
·        It is estimated that in some parts of Scotland, one single hectare of land may host up to five biting midges for every man, woman and child in Scotland – that’s 25 million biting midges per hectare

The Rest…
·        Midges have been around in Scotland for some 8,000 years  
·        There are around 35 species of midges in Scotland
·        Only the females bite. It gives them protein and energy to produce their eggs
·        A female will feed on the skin for up to four minutes taking 0.1 microlitres of blood
·        Male’s mouthparts are not strong enough to pierce skin and they feed on liquids such as nectar from flowers.
·        Midges are very small – they only have a wingspan of 1.4mm
·        Midges do not like the wind, low temperature or very dry conditions
·        A certain species of midge cause sweet-itch, a debilitating incurable problem which affects up to one in twenty of the UK’s horses and ponies.          

Professor Jenny MORDUE
Professor Jenny Mordue is one of the world’s leading authorities in scientific pest control, Her research concentrates on environmentally sound strategies for pest management with a particular  specialisation in midges. She has more than 100 scientific publications and several patents to her name


Notes to Editors

Issued by the Communications Team, Office of External Affairs, University of Aberdeen, King's College, Aberdeen. Tel: (01224) 272014.

Issued on: Monday 15th of September 2008

Contact: Jennifer Phillips

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