Infinite Knowledge
5 min readJun 29, 2020

Literally speaking, the coolest bug on Earth is a wingless fly called the Antarctic midge.

And that’s not up for debate — because, the Antarctic midge is the only insect that lives exclusively in the coldest place on the planet: Antarctica !!!

And even though it’s not easy to carve out a habitat there, the midge has some special tricks that make this frigid continent the perfect home.

This is a short and a sweet post that explains about the Antarctic Midge and its lifestyle and its awesome ability to live in the dead cold of the Antarctic.

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What Wiki Says

Belgica antarctica … Or the Antarctic midge, is a species of flightless midge, endemic to the continent of Antarctica. At 2–6 mm (0.079–0.24 in) long, it is the largest purely terrestrial animal native to the continent, as well as its only insect.[2][3] It also has the smallest known insect genome as of 2014, with only 99 million base pairs of nucleotides (and about 13,500 genes). It is the only insect that can survive year-round in Antarctica.[4][5]

Living In Antarctica For A “Normal” Insect

In general, Antarctica is a terrible place to live… Average air temperatures are well below freezing, and the cold, dry wind makes it easy to get dehydrated.

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It’s especially tough for insects, which are cold-blooded like reptiles, so they need warmth from the outside or they can’t really move around.

To make matters worse, the ozone layer is really thin in that part of the world, so UV radiation just beams down on the Earth — which can mess up DNA and be deadly for insects.

So it might not be your first pick for a home, but for the Antarctic midge, it’s perfect.

Perks Of The Antarctic Midge

This midge has been around for over 30 million years, and along the way, it’s evolved a bunch of adaptations to help it survive.

No Wings

First of all, the Antarctic Midge is a fly that can’t fly — because there’d be no point with Antarctica’s winds, so it doesn’t even have wings.

And that comes with a perk: Since wings let off a lot of heat, being wingless 80helps midges retain what little warmth they have.

Huddle And Cuddle

The insects also huddle together, which helps keep them from losing too much water to Antarctica’s frigid, dry air… And it’s also kind of cute.

But they’re still in Antarctica, so there’s only so much they can do to stay warm.

Special Chemicals

Like many insects, midges have special tricks to survive their blood freezing over.

They do this through a process called cold hardening, where they make special chemicals that protect their cells from being damaged if their bodies form ice on the inside… Because that’s a thing that happens in Antarctica.

The Midge not only tolerates but also requires a freezing climate to survive: exposure of larvae to such mild temperatures as 10 °C is enough to kill them within a week !!!

They also have what are called heat shock proteins, which are thought to fix other proteins that lose their shape under stress… Like when they’re exposed to UV rays or extreme cold so that they can function properly.

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Unusual Life-Cycle

The insect also takes advantage of an unusual life cycle to make it through the coldest parts of the year.

See… Adult midges only live for 10 days, but they stay in their larval form for about two years !!!

That lets them take advantage of two summer feeding seasons, so they can fatten up enough to reproduce.

When it’s time… They emerge in their adult form all at once, find a mate, and get down to business.

And while this lifestyle doesn’t make Antarctica sound like a paradise, these strategies work really well for the midge.

An Unusual Fact

In fact, at about half a centimetre long, these insects are the biggest land animal on the whole continent !!!

Penguins… For the record, are technical marine animals, so they don’t count.

And the Antarctic midge has accomplished all of this with the tiniest genome of any known insect.

Meaning it’s not actually all that complex.

Truth Is Still Not Clear

In fact… While these adaptations do help the midge survive its extreme habitat, a lot of these mechanisms already exist in other insects. So scientists are still trying to figure out what makes the Antarctic midge so special — if it’s just better at using the survival features that many insects have, or whether it has something else going for it.

You can take The Antarctic Midge as Bear Grylls and the other insects as humans if the above-given theory goes right… Just like normal insects, we have the same abilities… But the Bear Grylls and The antarctic Midge takes away the survival skills.

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Either way, the better we understand this strange, hardy insect, the better we can understand the Antarctic ecosystem as a whole.

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Originally published at on June 29, 2020.