KNOW YOUR ENEMIES
By Kirk Winter
Canadians wait eight to nine miserable months a year to enjoy the pleasures of being outside in the late spring and the summer. Unfortunately, as soon as the snow disappears and the warm weather arrives, those Canadians who wish to spend time outside have to deal with the Four Horsemen of the Insect Apocalypse. Mosquitoes, black flies, deer flies and horse flies exist solely to drive Canadian lovers of the outdoors to distraction on a seasonal basis.
I will assume most readers already know far too much about our local mosquitoes which, after a wet and cool spring, are hatching in their millions. In the evening at our cottage in Haliburton, we can hear them humming on the other side of our screened windows trying to figure out how to get inside and make a meal of us. When the mosquitoes are really awful, the thought of stepping outside after dark requires much bravery, preparation and perseverance.
The first of the annoying predators to make their appearance every spring in Ontario are the black flies. From late April to sometime in July, they are out there waiting to pick you up and carry you away. They are almost invisible and are capable of taking a chunk out of you with their vicious bites. Depending upon where you are in the world black flies are also known as gnats, sand flies or buffalo flies.
There are 2,200 varieties of black flies worldwide and they feed on the blood of mammals. They prefer to bite their victims on their heads, neck and backs. My wife spent her formative years in northern Ontario and tells stories of children with so many black fly bites in their hair that when they combed their hair the scalp ran red with blood.
My personal enemies are the deer flies. They are a blood-sucking insect that looks like a brown house fly with delta shaped wings. They are ferocious, persistent and difficult to deal with because they are impervious to DEET.
There are 250 different species of deer flies and they are found in every part of the world except Iceland, Greenland and Hawaii. These predators will seldom enter buildings and are attracted to their prey by sight, smell or the detection of their victim giving off carbon dioxide. Their bite can be painful, and spraying programs for deer flies are seldom approved because they lay the majority of their eggs in environmentally sensitive wetlands.
One of my gun club buddies calls deer flies “delta winged merchants of mischief” and I agree with him completely. The Ministry of Natural Resources reported that many mammals that later become road kill are driven out of the bush and onto the pavement in the summertime by pests like deer flies.
Last, but certainly not least, on the list of summer pests are horse flies. These flies look like house flies on steroids and are sometimes mistaken for bees. The females feast on human blood, and horse flies are found everywhere except in the Polar Regions.
The bites can cause a welt around the bite to swell up, dizziness, weakness and wheezing. An allergic reaction to horse fly bites is not unusual. The Ministry of Natural Resources suggests that the sight of the bites should be washed clean, and a cold compress applied to limit swelling Horse flies have been around for a very long time. Their first mention was in the literature of Ancient Greece when the playwright Aeschylus mentioned that horse flies were driving people to madness. One of my friends with livestock has told me that one of the many reasons cattle lie down in the fields is to protect their sensitive undersides, udder and genitalia from the predations of horse flies.
The summer of 2019 is right now featuring all four of these insects very prominently, with black flies hanging on much longer than normal. As much as I like summer, those September and October days when all of these nuisance bugs are gone have always been my favourite for good reason. Right now, I can hardly wait for those days to arrive.