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Farmers Almanac
The 2014 Farmers Almanac
Farmers' Almanac

Those Blasted Black Flies!

Those Blasted Black Flies!

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 hate 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.

16 comments

1 Christine Bunting { 06.26.14 at 11:37 am }

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?

2 S. Diederich { 06.19.14 at 11:03 am }

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.

3 JT { 06.09.14 at 9:25 am }

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.

4 Pat Nelson { 06.08.14 at 4:38 pm }

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.

5 Daniel Siegel { 05.26.14 at 3:59 pm }

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 dancingroots.com 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.

6 Lyn { 05.15.14 at 8:56 am }

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.

7 ryan { 05.14.14 at 12:40 pm }

Catnip oil is supposed to work really well

8 ryan { 05.14.14 at 12:39 pm }

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

9 Maureen Daylor { 05.08.14 at 6:35 pm }

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.

10 kathy case { 05.01.14 at 2:12 pm }

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 ..at least not yet..so please let me know if anyone has

11 Mikko Rossman { 04.30.14 at 11:00 pm }

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.

PS: You wrote “A good way to protect your face is to wear a hate with attached netting…”.
I wear hate all spring due to these horrendous beasts. And a hat with netting. Great typo.

12 Jim Slim { 04.29.14 at 4:19 pm }

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

13 Daniel Siegel { 06.29.13 at 9:10 am }

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

14 Daniel Siegel { 06.17.13 at 10:16 am }

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

15 Michelle { 05.29.13 at 10:22 pm }

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.

16 Leanne { 05.29.13 at 1:18 pm }

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.

17 Barbara Cox { 05.29.13 at 10:29 am }

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

18 Peter Geiger { 05.28.13 at 1:57 pm }

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.

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