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If you’ve walked into a buzzing army of tiny flies lately, you’ve been a victim of the midge revival – a sure sign spring is here. 

Credit: Adina Keeling

But it won’t last long said University of Illinois aquatic entomologist R. Edward Dewalt, who studies these insects.

“It’s like usually a two-week period of time that it’s miserable to be outside and next to a stream that has a lot of them,” he said. 

Regardless, the bugs have been a nuisance in Evanston. Ask Brian Ekstrom, who spent Monday night at Canal Shores Golf Course, and said he “ inhaled a bunch of them just from walking and breathing.”

Midge 101

“Midge” and “gnat” are colloquial names for the large numbers of small black fly species that assault Evanston – and other places near bodies of water – every year for a brief period of time, Dewalt said. And while they are small, they often fly together, creating a small cloud.

“They’re often very abundant,” Dewalt said. “Mostly they are beneficial. The adults are grabbed by birds who feed them to their young. Birds that live near water often time their egg hatching to coincide with the [midge] emergence from lakes, marshes, and rivers. In the water, fish and other invertebrates eat the larval forms of [midges] which often form most of the prey items for fish, especially young fish. ” 


They’re often annoying to humans, and particularly large hatches may cause some allergic reactions or asthma flareups.

Dewalt said midges are a “cool to cold weather insect,” so as the water warms up, their numbers are likely to go down. Once midges have enough nutrition after feeding for up to a week, they return to a stream to lay eggs. The larvae take a year to finish growing. Then, as the water warms up, the newly born larvae emerge to find a meal and repeat the cycle. 

But for those few weeks, Evanstonians just have to keep waving.

A local gnat-tastrophy

Sophia Simon, a 21-year-old who recently graduated from Northwestern’s School of Communication, and Nala Marie Bishop, a 20-year old student in Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy, both have met the bugs. 

Credit: Adina Keeling

“They came back this spring with aggression,” Simon told the RoundTable. At her girlfriend’s party this weekend, after a torrent of rain, party guests opened a window that happened not to have a screen. “Within a few minutes, the whole place was filled with these gnats on the wall. Yes, very gross. We had to suck them up by vacuuming. But it’s just crazy how they move and they’re so big on everything.”

Simon did not grow up near water, so her first time experiencing the critters was her freshman year on campus. It caught her off guard.

Bishop has seen the flies all over.  “Every time I walk into campus, there’s little pockets of areas that have so many bugs, so many little gnats, whatever they’re called.” She was walking with her friends past The Black House, a Northwestern Black affinity space at 1914 Sheridan Roa., and from far away she could see people using their hands and arms to swat the bugs away.

“It was so funny until you’re actually out there. And me and my friend were doing the exact same thing just running … to avoid the gnats.” 

Debbie-Marie Brown

Debbie-Marie Brown is a reporter and Racial Justice Fellow at the Evanston RoundTable. They cover the local reparations initiative, Black life in Evanston, and the 5th ward. Contact Debbie-Marie at dmb@evanstonroundtable.com...

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  1. Thanks so much RT and Debbie-Marie Brown….you’ve fully informed your readers about the gnats in our midst!