Iceland has an undeserved reputation as being a country free of bugs, especially biting insects that you might find in warmer climates. This reputation, like many myths about Iceland, is not entirely true. One insect is so emblematic of Iceland, in fact, that we named a whole lake after it.
The midge, a tiny flying insect of many species, is as Icelandic as the puffin or the sheep. The lake Mývatn is named after them, its name literally meaning “midge lake”. While there are numerous species in Iceland, there are two in particular that are most common: Chironomidae, also known as lake midges, and Simuliidae, also known as the black fly. Fortunately, they look pretty different from one another because one is your friend and the other your sworn enemy.
The lake midge doesn’t bite or sting. The most damage they do to us is kind of swarm in your face on a hot day, especially one near a body of standing water, and generally, annoy you. But they are crucial to the ecosystem of Mývatn, and won’t hurt you. The black fly, by contrast, gets its nourishment by drinking the blood of people and animals. Their bite, while not extraordinarily painful, is exacerbated by the fact that, like the lake midge, they also swarm. Dozens of smaller bites are arguably harder to deal with than a single sharp sting.
Fortunately for you, if you’re reading this in Iceland right now, you’re very likely not going to run into any. They won’t start buzzing around until the summer, and even then, usually only in the countryside near a lake. They might not be as majestic as the reindeer or as amusing as the puffin, but the midge nonetheless deserves a place in the pantheon of animals in Iceland.