Muffleheads make their presence felt

SANDUSKY Many visitors came and went this holiday weekend, but some are here to stay.
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010



Many visitors came and went this holiday weekend, but some are here to stay.

The muffleheads are back for the summer, and that means Lake Erie is healthy and thriving.

Muffleheads are "indicative of water quality" said Jeff Tyson, biologist supervisor of the Lake Erie Fisheries. Tyson said although the population suffered heavily in the 1960s from water pollution, Ohio is now seeing the population expand and make a comeback as water quality improves.

But not everyone is excited for their return.

Muffleheads, also called chironomids or non-biting midges, are virtually harmless, as implied by their name. When they swarm in large numbers, however, they can be quite a nuisance to local residents.

"We used to have June bugs," Sandusky resident Jack Colvin recalled. "We had so many it used to be like Rice Krispies when you walked -- snap, crackle, pop. But now it's just muffleheads. They get in your face, you breathe them in. When they're swarming, they're more of just a nuisance."

Despite his complaining, Colvin knows he doesn't have it too bad.

"I'm sure boaters are more irritated," Colvin said.

Many living near Lake Erie, not just boaters, share his frustrations. James Bickley, also of the Sandusky area, is equally irritated with the outbreak of muffleheads this weekend. Although they are mostly found near the shoreline, pesky muffleheads easily make their way inland and swarm homes in town.

"They're mainly concentrated by the water, but they just get around in yards, trees, everywhere. It's still a problem for us, too," Bickley said.

Despite local complaints, wildlife officials such as Tyson say that the increase of the muffleheads population is definitely a good thing. Although their swarms are annoying, muffleheads pose no health threats to humans, and are also the base of the food web. They are pivotal to maintaining the balance of the local food chain of Lake Erie.

"A lot of fish species forage on them," Tyson said. "They're good to have around."

Christine Mayer, program chairwoman of the University of Toledo Lake Erie Center, also recognizes the vital role of muffleheads in the food web of the lake.

"They're a nuisance," Mayer said. "But fish love to eat them, and when they hatch, they're a wonderful food for birds that skim over the water. They're not a bad thing at all, and I've never heard of them carrying diseases. They're pretty benign."

Both officials agree that Sandusky residents will have to cope with the muffleheads for a while. Various species of the chironomids family will emerge throughout the summer, peak in June, and eventually die out through August.