Sunday, February 17, 2002

Wet season could
rain on the parade
of Maui midges

So far the little pests have not
matched last year's numbers

By Gary T. Kubota

WAILUKU >> The end of Maui's drought may have also brought an end to the swarms of millions of midges from the Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge that made life miserable for residents of nearby condominiums.

Wildlife manager Glynnis Nakai said the number of midges this year is "significantly less" and are not swarming as they did in January and February of last year.

Residents at Kealia last year found thousands of midges daily in their swimming pools, sidewalks, and outdoor lighting fixtures, and passing motorists had their windshields smeared with dead midges swarming in columns like little tornadoes.

Kealia Resort manager Rodger Mellema said the number of midges is nothing like last year when some residents had to clear "midge drifts" from their properties.

The alien fly, known as Polypedilum nubifer and found in Australia and some Pacific islands, has a body about a quarter of an inch long with wingspans about a quarter of an inch wide.

Aquatic entomologist Martin Berg, who is conducting a study at the 210-acre pond said the number of midges' larvae found in the underwater mud is 80 to 90 percent less than last year.

Berg, a professor at Loyola University-Chicago, said more research is necessary to identify the reason for fewer midges but his guess is that the reduction in numbers has been caused by the increase in water levels this year.

He said the water dilutes the amount of food per unit volume of water in the pond.

Federal officials say the midges may still appear in larger numbers since they usually rise in large numbers in February and March and last year's swarms emerged early.

Scientists this year had planned to apply the chemical "methoprene" in pellets in a little more than half the pond to arrest the development of the midges and prevent them from becoming flying adults.

Berg said applying the methoprene might be unnecessary if the midges do not become a nuisance.

Meanwhile, scientists are continuing to conduct research at the pond, including one to determine the kind of algae eaten by the midges.

Nakai said in the long term, federal officials may try to control the amount of algae in the pond in order to reduce the number of midges.

The study has received special Congressional funding of $1.45 million for two years. Scientists hope to receive additional money for at least three more years.

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