Saturday, April 12, 2014

On Spring Flowers & on the Bugs to Come

Flowers, lions, cherubs and bearded men on a balcony above the Rio di San Lio

I'm afraid that the only part of this post having to do with spring flowers is the photo above, and the rest will have to with the rather less pleasant topic of the infestation of tiny bugs expected in Venice this summer.

Chironomidi is what my Venetian neighbor called them when he told me about them this afternoon, which is quite close to their official name in English of chironomidae (chironomus plumosus). But it seems that they're commonly known by a variety of much more colorful names in North America: "muckleheads" or "muffleheads" in certain regions around the Great Lakes, and by the distinctly Dickensian "chizzywinks" in Florida. They're also referred to as "blind mosquitoes", "lake flies", "bay flies" and "sand flies."

Whatever they're called they are, according to both my Venetian neighbor and Wikipedia, real pests. Looking rather like small mosquitoes, they don't (fortunately) bite, but Wikipedia warns that when they emerge in large numbers they "can damage paint, brick, and other surfaces with their droppings. When large numbers of adults die they can build up into malodorous piles. They can provoke allergic reactions in sensitive individuals" (

My neighbor warned that the last time they appeared in Venice in the mid-80s and mid-90s they amassed in such large dense clouds as to disrupt traffic on the Ponte della Libertà that connects Venice to the mainland. They coated car windshields beyond the remedy of any wipers, leaving drivers essentially blind, and covered the roadway in masses slick as oil spills. Given the fact that Venetians are notoriously inept behind the wheel of a car (as opposed to a boat), it takes little imagination to picture the kinds of chaos that resulted.

In apartments without screens my neighbor said they will sometimes congregate so thickly at night as to turn a white ceiling black.

In 3 1/2 years of living in Venice this is the first I've heard of them and, as far as I know, I've never seen them. But this year is different, my neighbor said, because of the extraordinarily mild winter we had here. That's right, while other parts of the world suffered through fierce winters that gave no impression of ever letting up, in Venice we rarely seemed to drop below the freezing point. We had periods of unending rain, but for the most part people here think we really had no winter at all.

As more pessimistically-inclined people like to say "No good deed goes unpunished", so perhaps one might say in this case that "No apparently good fortune is without consequences."

Of course much as some of us might have sometimes (but only rarely) felt a little smug to have it so easy this past winter, most Venetians I know look forward to the possibility of a snowfall or two in the city. But conditions never got anywhere close to being right for a White Christmas. Instead, they turned out to be perfect for an explosion of chironomidi, and we're being told to brace for the arrival of their black clouds.


  1. Our mild winter here in the UK meant many more of my plants survived in my garden. Unfortunately so did the snails and slugs which are now out in force munching everything in sight. Hope your infestation isn't as bad as predicted.

    1. Funny how that works, isn't it, Andrew? Have a mild winter and pay for it in the spring and summer... I hope the snails and slugs won't get too fat on your plants, and I'll be happy if the mild winter's effects here are limited to the bugs, no matter how bad, and don't extend to some ill effects on the lagoon. I haven't heard of any yet.

  2. Did you ever watch "Laugh-in", or are you too young? In the words of one character played by Arte Johnson, "Verrrry interesting". (Or, maybe verrrry infesting??)

    Before I left the wet city, the apartment I was in was alive with small delta wing shaped insects. They didn't bite, they just sort of swarmed. From that description, can your neighbour perhaps identify them?

    1. I vaguely remember "Laugh-In", but perhaps only from syndicated repeats or clips. I do remember Arte Johnson, I think.

      I'll try to remember to ask my neighbor (or someone else) next time I see him