I heard of the dreaded New England "black fly" season when we first moved to New Hampshire 10 years ago. While these tiny, 1/6th of an inch, black flies are found all over the US, with the exception of Florida, they seem to like New Englanders (and Canadians) the best; this area has gotten a reputation for hosting what seems to be an annual convention for these insects from mid-spring to early summer.
I've only been bitten a few times but once a black fly has gotten you it is not something you'll easily forget. It starts out innocently as what seems to be a mosquito bite - but swells to alarming proportions. I tend to get bitten on my legs. My kids get them around their ears and neck - tender areas, I presume, for a hungry egg-laying female.
My neighbor, who grew up in Maine, says that she doesn't get bitten very much anymore. "I heard that you develop immunity after a while," she said, and proceeded to tell me a story - which was told to her - about a man who went across the country on horseback a few years ago. An eccentric fellow, he wore a huge black hat when riding through New England (right after Mother's Day, by the way) to ".catch black flies." When enough gathered on his hat, swept them up and ate them ".to build up his immunity."
Whether this is true or not (that he ate them) is subject to debate (if this is something you care to talk about at all!) but the fact that you build up an immunity has some basis in fact. According to the University of Maine's Cooperative Extension's information:
"Generally black fly bites cause some itching and minor swelling from the first few bites of the season, following which an immunity develops, with subsequent reduced reactions. Nonetheless, even individuals who have lived all their lives in black fly country and are exposed every season, can have greater effects if they get an unusually high number of bites on their first exposure of the season, or have some significant change in their physical condition or medical status."
(Ahem, note nothing about eating them is mentioned.)
Other than getting bit or having them for a snack to build up immunity, you can always try to avoid them - or keep them away!
Beware of sunset, right before a storm, and cloudy days.
Black flies are most active during daylight hours, and particularly on cloudy days. They are active in the early morning and evening right after sunset (peak time). Black flies are active right before a storm - but hide during rain or cold.
Get a bird feeder.
Much like our horseback rider friend, some birds (such as swallows) and other insects (dragonflies) find black flies to be a tasty meal. Another good reason to hang bird feeders in your yard.
Black flies have a sense of fashion.
Light shades such as orange, yellow and light green are less attractive to black flies than dark shades such as blue, purple or red. But black flies can't bite through clothing - so wear long pants, a long-sleeve shirt.
They also love perfume & babbling brooks.
Avoid wearing perfume, aftershave, or perfumed personal products when you're outside - they are drawn to the scent. And, unlike mosquitoes, which breed in standing water, black flies breed in running water.
Black Flies are lazy.
Or maybe they're just slow. Whatever the case, they can't keep up with you if you're walking fast. But if you stop - watch out!
Garlic and baking soda baths.
If you do get bit, soak yourself in a baking soda bath (about 1 cup for a full tub) to help ease the itchiness. My grandmother's old remedy for ANY kind of insect bite is to cut a garlic clove in half and rub on your bite. You won't smell great, but I can attest that it does help ease the itch, and ".cuts the poison," as my grandmother insisted.
Insect repellents work to keep them away.
You can always use any product that includes DEET. But for more natural remedies, "Olde Time Woodsman's Liquid Fly Dope" is one of the oldest black fly formulas, created in 1882 and bottled in 1937 after being tested by loggers at woods camps in northern Maine. It was sold in sporting goods store throughout New England for many years. I found it for sale at one website called PredatorPee (don't ask) , 2 ounces for $6.99. http://www.predatorpee.com/old_woodsman.html You can also use Crocodile! Citronella (made here in my hometown of Keene, NH) which can be purchased online at http://www.dancingroots.com
Whatever you use, make sure you put it on your neck, ears, face, wrists and hands.
And if all else fails: You're safe in your house. Unlike mosquitoes, black flies won't go inside your house (or in a tent).
About The Author: Marcia Passos Duffy - Publisher/editor
The Heart of New England.com online magazine
Marcia Passos Duffy is a freelance writer and the publisher/editor of The Heart of New England online magazine and weekly e-newsletter (www.theheartofnewengland.com), a publication that celebrates the unique character of the northern New England states of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. To subscribe to her free weekly e-newsletter on bed & breakfast deals, New England thrifty tips, contests, and gardening reminders, simply send a blank email to email@example.com
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Your article promotes Old Time Woodsman Fly Dope as "natural" when, according to websites with its registration number, it contains 27% DEET. Others, including the merchant you suggest for purchase of this substance, also represent it as DEET free. Perhaps this warrants investigation?
Editor's Note: There does appear to be a discrepancy on this and we were unable to find any concrete information. There was some discussion on the internet that there are two different products with the same name. One is the original "natural" formula, and the other contains the DEET. But we were unable to tell which is which. Be sure to ask for this information prior to ordering if this is a concern.
Try Bye Bye Black Fly, 84 Meenabga Mtn Rd, Onchiota NY 12989, it works. I use it when i go up to the Adirondack mtns.
I have 9 horses that are just in a pitiful state. The gnats are driving them and I crazy. I just found out that gnats do not like the indoors so will be sure my horses have a nice dark shed to go into next season and I am now feeding them garlic to make them less tasty. Has anyone else tried this? Unfortunately the fly season will most likely be over before they have had enough, but I will be prepared next year.
Are there natural ways to get rid of black flies in a specific area? Like, planting a herbs around your porch. Are there identified plants that black flies do not like? Or natural bath oils to bathe in that will detour black flies but not make you smell like a walking medicine cabinet?
Editor's Note: We added this as a new request:
Are there natrual way to get rid of black flies in a spacific area? Like, planting a herbs around your porch. Are there identified plants that black flies do not like? Or natural bath oils to bathe in that will detour black flies but not make you smell like a walking medicine cabinet?
We posted this as a new request:
I loved this article & as soon as I get home from work I am going to try the garlic & baking soda to see if they work. I have taken antihistamine & hydrocortisone cream, these were both recomended by the chemist as my foot must have gotton bitten & my foot has swollen so much I thought I was going to have to go to the emergency room, :-< it is a bit smaller now but I can't walk on it. I had never heard of black flies until yesterday as I am not from North America & this is my 1st summer here. If I read the artical correctly does that mean I should not get bitten for the rest of the summer?
Years ago, my wife, son and I camped at 4th Lake in the Adirondacks during Black Fly season (Totally unaware at that point). She got bit as we put our canoe in and swelled for the weekend. I was taking an antihistamine fo my allergies and never even saw a black fly or mosquito. I later found that the antihistamine will prevent swelling of mosquito bites, etc. Now we just plan around the season.
Well, I can tell you that they
DO show up in Florida occasionally, as this year I am having severe problems with the welts they produce after biting me. I live in Gainesville, Florida
and although not a problem every year I have found out that they do show up some years depending on weather conditions. By the way I loved the article!
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