This is more than impressive: Millions of true midges had hatched and were recently dancing in the air at a site east of Genshagen, a district of Ludwigsfelde south of Berlin. Seeing this is fascinating and for some also frightening. But don’t worry: You can watch the spectacle in peace. True midges do not bite.
There are over 1,000 known species in Central Europe alone, and over 5,000 species worldwide. What’s more, they occur in incredible numbers. In a buzzing cloud of amorous male chironomids, there can be millions of specimens.
The males form these clouds solely to attract females. They rise and fall, producing a buzzing sound that attracts females of the same species. These females hook the male mosquito in flight and mate with it.
The female mosquito then drops a few thousand eggs over a water surface. The eggs are glued together into balls surrounded by a gelatinous shell. The eggs hatch into larvae that live in the upper layers of mud at the bottom of the water body. There they feed on organic particles or algae. Other species penetrate leaves of aquatic plants, feed on rotten wood, or live freely and predate on other tiny creatures.
True midges must go through four larval stages before they can rise to dance in the air. And it goes like this: The larva ready to hatch leaves its home in the mud, drifts to the water’s surface, and wham: within seconds, the finished mosquito flies away.
Up to four generations of chironomids do this every year. Too bad for the chironomid: As adults, they no longer have a long life. Since their mouthparts are atrophied, most species cannot eat. Good for us: they can therefore not bite.
About the picture: I was observing a A Pygmy Cormorant (Phalacrocorax pygmeus), which is not a regular bird in Germany. Suddenly a “curtain” of whirring and flying particles showed-up. With astonishment I realize to witness large dancing swarms of chironomids. In the process, the male chironomids are always ascending and descending. The species-specific frequency of wing beat results in a buzzing sound that attracts females of the same species. These are seized in flight and mated. From a distance, these dancing swarms can easily look like columns of smoke, and it has happened that firefighters have been called out because of such giant swarms. Certain weather phenomena, such as sudden jumps in temperature or thunderstorm air, can abruptly trigger a mass hatch of certain species. How high a swarm travels depends on the weather. In warm, windless weather, some species fly very high; in rainy weather, many chironomids tend to stay close to the ground. However high they are traveling: For swallows, such swarms are a land of milk and honey.
This particular photo of swarming midges circling a Pygmy Cormorant was taken with a 400mm lens, the Canon EF 400mm f/4L IS II USM with 2x converter, on a Canon EOS 1 DX. The image was taken at 1/320 sec, and aperture 8.0 at ISO 100.
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