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Those Blasted Black Flies!

by Jaime McLeod

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Mosquitoes are a much-dreaded fact of summer throughout the world, but anyone who enjoys the outdoors in Canada and the northernmost U.S. states knows that the real enemy of the wilderness wanderer is the malevolent black fly.

Black flies, also known as buffalo gnats or turkey gnats, are small flying insects that feed off the blood of humans and other animals. Though tiny — they reach a maximum length of 1/8” when fully-grown — black flies are a formidable foe.

Most prominent beginning in about the middle of May, and continuing to make the outdoors a miserable place to be well into June, or even July, black flies do not spread disease among humans, though their bites are painful, itchy, and slow to heal. They can cause severe allergic reactions in some, up to and including death. Because black flies tend to swarm their prey, a single victim can receive numerous bites in a short period of time, increasing the likelihood of a dangerous reaction. For this reason, some U.S. states try to control black fly populations for public health.

Unlike mosquitoes, which breed in stagnant water, black flies lay their eggs in clean fast-running water, such as rivers and streams. Female black flies lay hundreds of eggs in or near the water, so they are very common in wooded areas near bodies of water.

Repelling Black Flies
Black flies can be difficult to repel. The simplest way to prevent getting bitten is to protect your skin by wearing long sleeves and pants at all times when outdoors. Because they are attracted to dark colors, it’s also a good idea to wear light-colored clothing, such as khaki, tan, or white.

One particularly annoying habit of black flies is their tendency to swarm the face. This occurs because they are attracted to the carbon dioxide we exhale. A good way to protect your face is to wear a hat with attached netting, specially designed to protect the head and neck from black flies.

Some recommended natural repellants include vanilla extract, lavender, and the extract from pine branches — just break open a young branch and rub the moisture from inside on your skin.

Avoiding wearing sweet smelling perfumes, and indulging in candy or soft drinks when outdoors can also help to reduce your risk of attracting black flies.

If you find that these home remedies are not effective, you may need to move up to a commercial insect repellent. Sprays containing DEET are often recommended, though their effectiveness against black flies is unpredictable — some even report that DEET sprays attract black flies. Repellents containing Permethrin are more likely to be effective, but they are also more toxic than DEET sprays, and can be harmful to fish, cats, and beneficial insects such as honey bees.

Soothing the Itch
If you do get attacked by black flies, there are a number of things you can do to soothe the itch. First, wash the affected area with soap and warm water, and avoid scratching the bites as much as possible. Scratching can break the skin, increasing the risk of infection. Applying topical agents such as aloe vera, witch hazel, or a gentle over the counter remedy, such as calamine lotion, can also help. If the itching persists, or is very bad, an antihistamine cream may be needed.

42 Responses

  1. I was swarmed this Sunday on LBI NJ by black flies, literally hundreds at a time. We had sprayed a deet product liberally and I believe it made them much worse! It was difficult to get to and into the house. It was horrible unimaginable experience! I believe the wind was SSW and I assume they blew in from land. I will try again Thursday and would appreciate any tried and true advice.

    by Cindi on Sep 13, 2016 at 8:39 pm Reply

    • I’m on vacation this week in Pensacola Fl.
      Never saw flies like this, not one or two but swarms. Biting . Could not get away. Breeze did not help. OFF Active seemed to attract them and made it worse . Could not go in the water due to several baby sharks hanging out (in Shallows by beach!)
      And one pretty big shark that came by twice In the hour that I tried to endure this. The flies got worse and were covering everything that I was carrying, chair, cooler, towels. They were on me when I got in the car and could not be shooed away.
      Guess the beach is out for the rest of the trip.
      Not worth it.
      Maybe I’ll just go home early.

      by JW Florida on Sep 30, 2016 at 12:32 am

  2. Black flies are hatching out of my scalp. They are parasites and a big cause of all human diseases. I have shaved my hair and treat my head daily. Nothing seems to be working. Was a healthy beautiful woman up until April 2016 when this started so dont believe all the crap about only immune compromised get affected.

    by Smart dust on Sep 4, 2016 at 9:50 pm Reply

  3. My first encounter with these pesky bugs has been this season. I was bitten for the first time. I noticed I was surrounded by a storm of flies both biting flies the brown ones and the smaller yellow flies I swear it was the green bottle of bug spray I used. I am here to seek advice since I continue to be in the middle of the storm. Thanks for reading!

    by Heather on Aug 6, 2016 at 9:14 am Reply

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    by Carmine Dass on Jun 1, 2016 at 12:36 pm Reply

  7. Is this fly also referred to as the Horse Fly?

    by Dani on Jun 1, 2016 at 1:04 am Reply

    • Horseflies are MUCH bigger. They, too, have a nasty bite, but in my experience are more noticeable and therefore easier to combat.

      by jeg on Jun 14, 2016 at 9:59 pm

  8. We are having problems with flies I a apt they are eating carpet the refrigerator coming through the celling eating my cats fur what in the hell should I do

    by Barry Holmes on Nov 13, 2015 at 10:31 pm Reply

  9. Sitting in my truck with the drivers window wide open. Had a shower first thing along with the usual shave and after shave. Blackflies swarming at my open window but will not enter the cab of the vehicle. I learned that running your vehicles AC. cools the cab so much that they are repelled by the wall of cool air they hit when they venture near the open window. Not 1 single mosquito or blackfly has entered the cab. Now to run the gauntlet to get into work. Wish me luck

    by John Irvine on Jul 12, 2015 at 7:20 am Reply

  10. I am in the Philippines and the larger flies here bite. I had an infected bite last year that scared real bad. It was infected for two months. This year I’m using skin so soft and it’s working. It worked better than the deet. The Repel with deet 40percent worked for mosquitos, but not the flies. I am now mixing a few drops essential oil of tea tree and peppermint or peppermint and lavender in my lotion or aloe vera gel and applying. I can re-apply a few drops straight on ankles, feet and legs where they are very pesky. It’s working.

    by Eileen Hume on Jul 6, 2015 at 5:06 am Reply

  11. If you want tovavoid those pesty mosquitoes start taking 1000 mg garlic tadlets (the little gel tablets) about the 1st of April through November and you should not have any problems with mosquitoes bites

    by Carol Kats on Jun 17, 2015 at 1:04 pm Reply

  12. Just use Witchazel on the bite spot. How does it work?
    Witch hazel contains chemicals called tannins. When applied directly to the skin, witch hazel might help reduce swelling, help repair broken skin, and fight bacteria.

    Witch hazel is a plant. The leaf, bark, and twigs are used to make medicine. You may see a product called witch hazel water (Hamamelis water, distilled witch hazel extract). This is a liquid that is distilled from dried leaves, bark, and partially dormant twigs of Hamamelis virginiana.

    Some people apply witch hazel directly to the skin for itching, pain and swelling (inflammation), eye inflammation, skin injury, mucous membrane inflammation, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, bruises, insect bites, minor burns, and other skin irritations.

    by MJC on Jun 17, 2015 at 1:49 am Reply

  13. Always used skin so soft and works great.This year I read that listerine mouth wash (any flavor) sprayed on clothes,work area,lawn where you sit,or self repels mosquitoes.I tried on work area on patio, tables,benches,chairs and deck.With the first spray the mosquitoes fled in masses and didn’t return the whole time I worked there.Later my husband and I sprayed on clothes and skin before mowing, again no bites. Seems to work on those pesky biting flies also. Anyway it’s cheap and if doesn’t work you can use as mouthwash.

    by Jerrie Williams on Jun 16, 2015 at 9:19 pm Reply


    by ALICE MOORHOUSE on Jun 16, 2015 at 7:50 pm Reply

  15. i have found any kind of oil on your skin will stop black flies from biting you, they get stuck in the oil and die, and won,t bit thru it. Works every time.

    by Austin Gavin on Jun 5, 2015 at 2:10 pm Reply

  16. I’ve heard eating bananas will encourage black flies to swarm you, so perhaps try leaving bananas out of your diet before and during outdoor work and camping trips, I believe it works for me… and light clothing DEFINITELY works. I was outside with my son and husband yesterday, wearing pink, and they were wearing black and brown, and were SWARMED, though there were only a few flies near me, and I got no bites. My son’s ears were bleeding…

    by Ume Hermanski on May 26, 2015 at 10:09 am Reply

  17. try Vick´s VapoRub Menthol & Ecualiptus works good for me, for any insect bite, just rub it give it 2 mins and youre gtg. Remember to read product label.

    by Karl on May 25, 2015 at 7:47 pm Reply

  18. I use a baking soda past and it stops the itch for around 5 hours. Looking for a natural repellant.

    by B Whitaker on May 5, 2015 at 10:08 am Reply

  19. People have used skin so soft for years up here and swear by it. Myself I chose to douse myself in insect spray like deep woods off. I am going to try the B1 idea though.

    by Helen Hilyard on May 4, 2015 at 3:52 am Reply

  20. hi i was wondering, i have black little tiny bugs that bit and i have spots on me and marks and it ichies all the time. PLEAESE HELP ME i have not had any sleep for 32 hours !!! THANKS FOR READING

    by Natalie Maria McCowen on Mar 12, 2015 at 7:28 am Reply

  21. A week before we go camping I take a 100mg tablet of vitamin B1 each day for seven days..Then cut back to 50mg a day for the duration of our trip..It really works for me..Try it .Maybe it will work for you..Everyones body chemistry is different..B1 seems to work for mosquitoes also.The first time I asked the pharmacist for B1 he asked me where I was going fishing..He must know about B1 also…Enjoy our great outdoors a little more comfortable…

    by Jim Gautreau on Jan 15, 2015 at 4:40 pm Reply

  22. What can I do to get rid of black fly ( the very tiny creatures) that swarm plants? I’ve heard washing up liquid works as a temporary measure, seems to be working a bit anyone got any other remedies?

    by Christine Bunting on Jun 26, 2014 at 11:37 am Reply

  23. Jaime McLeod
    Sorry, with all due respect I must correct one of your comments. Black flies DO spread bacteria and pathogens, just as mosquitos do, particularly Filarial worms, which have now made there way in to the U.S. with many cases presenting to unknowing Physicians. Numerous entomologist are conducting ongoing research and discovering that they cannot say for sure that these blood feeding devils don’t spread other blood borne pathogens, including HIV. People also have a right to be fully informed that when they are bitten by black flies, unlike the mosquito, they shred your skin, injecting a bacteria that dissolves tissue so they can ingest. Seriously, think about it, if shared needles can spread disease, then surely the similar tissue penetrating tool used by black flies and other blood sucking insects (ticks, mosquitos) are capable.
    Again, with all due respect, symptoms of diseases, potentially transmitted, may take weeks, months, years to prompt medical attention. By then, making a correlation……… Unless you are a Doctor of Infectious Disease, Physicians are not required to have training in parasites/pathogens. Most are without the required competency to recognize, much less treat. Example: Lymes, which is recognized as an actual PDR disease by few. Many go undiagnosed for years and suffer greatly because they may not remember getting bit by a nymph tick and even the testing is not with empirical strength.
    Incidence of parasitic/pathogenic infections are rapidly rising in humans, and animals (just visit CDC website). It is important that discussions include the real dangers that exist being secondary hosts to blood feeding insects, especially repeatedly. Just don’t know where that mouth was last, LOL. There was a book I found years ago by Jerry Baker that outlined all natural home and garden treatments. Since then I have found that being a little proactive goes a long way. As soon a weather permits the lawn is thatched and given a good bath with lemon dish soap, using hose end sprayer. repeating weekly, or day before gatherings, has reduced biters by 75%+. Here, also have Deer Flies and I discovered none of the biters seem to fond of Ben-gay, so I now use it when I’m out to walk or on the bike. Putting Vicks around nostrils can also mask Co2 signals.

    by S. Diederich on Jun 19, 2014 at 11:03 am Reply

  24. THe only thing I’ve found that works is horse fly spray. Use it on your clothes. The mum flower extract is the same chemical basically and should work but they don’t flower in the cursed black fly season I’m saving my flower heads for next spring. I think the hard winter just made them hungrier.

    by JT on Jun 9, 2014 at 9:25 am Reply

  25. Blackflies do NOT pollinate blueberries! That’s one of those myths that’s full of crap! So if they’ve got a use, this isn’t it.

    by Pat Nelson on Jun 8, 2014 at 4:38 pm Reply

  26. The Black Flies have arrived. I am hearing it is one of the worst seasons in years. If you would like to try and all natrual herbal repellent the go to and take a look at Crocodile! Do a search to see what others have said. It is being used in many parts of the world with good results.

    by Daniel Siegel on May 26, 2014 at 3:59 pm Reply

  27. The only thing that works for the itch for me is to run the hottest water you can stand on the bite. It totally takes it away and lasts for hours.

    by Lyn on May 15, 2014 at 8:56 am Reply

  28. Catnip oil is supposed to work really well

    by ryan on May 14, 2014 at 12:40 pm Reply

  29. without the blackfly, there would be no blueberries!!!!!

    by ryan on May 14, 2014 at 12:39 pm Reply

  30. Apis Mellifica (SP?) helps a bit with the swelling and itch. It is a homeopathic also good for many other insect bites such as spiders. You need to use frequently.

    by Maureen Daylor on May 8, 2014 at 6:35 pm Reply

  31. I see no good reason we have black flies other than to bug us…hope for bats to eat them…but I have not found any spray that repels them least not please let me know if anyone has

    by kathy case on May 1, 2014 at 2:12 pm Reply

  32. These awful creatures are more attracted to heat than dark colors, CO2, or perfume. That is why they go for your head, neck, and elbows. There are lots of blood vessels close to the surface there. When I pull my car into the driveway they swarm the hood where the heat of the engine is. I’ve seen it my whole life.

    One good thing is that if you get an unusually hot day in spring, like 90°F+, they leave you alone because I think you blend into the background heat noise. I noticed this last spring working out in the yard. Also, I have found that 55°F seems to be their low cut-off temperature.

    by Mikko Rossman on Apr 30, 2014 at 11:00 pm Reply

  33. they suck. literally and figuratively. bald guys need hats badly in black fly territory.

    by Jim Slim on Apr 29, 2014 at 4:19 pm Reply

  34. Crocodile Herbal Insect Repellent works well on black flies and no-see-ums. It has been used all over the world. It is made from an herbal infussion of Rosemary, Peppermint and Thyme. It you think of how you make a cup of tea then this is how Crocodile is made. do a search and read what has been said about this safe and effective repellent

    by Daniel Siegel on Jun 29, 2013 at 9:10 am Reply

  35. There are natural insect repellents on the market that work much better the deet. They do not last as long and you need to apply every hour or so. One of these is Crocodile Herbal Insect Repellent. Do a search and see what has been said about Crocodile. No Deet No Citronella

    by Daniel Siegel on Jun 17, 2013 at 10:16 am Reply

  36. Weird but it works. Take a gallon zlock and put about 2 cups of water in it. Place in 5 pennies and close up the bag. Hang several around the area you and your pets hang out. It gets rid of them for some reason.

    by Michelle on May 29, 2013 at 10:22 pm Reply

  37. Grew up in the Lakes Region of NH. Now living in the Midwest. One thing I don’t miss are those horrible black flies! Out here folks don’t even know what I’m talking about.

    by Leanne on May 29, 2013 at 1:18 pm Reply

  38. Got my first black fly bite of the season yesterday. Too bad the cold spring hasn’t discouraged (ie killed) them.

    by Barbara Cox on May 29, 2013 at 10:29 am Reply

  39. The good news about getting snow over Memorial Day weekend, is that the black flies and mosquitos hate it and don’t venture out. That is about the only good thing to say about snow in late May.

    by Peter Geiger on May 28, 2013 at 1:57 pm Reply

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