Black flies, little black flies

Spring in Maine can be a very short season, marked first by mud season and then the black flies that descend from late April into July.

My introduction came one year in a brief stop to investigate a stunning waterfall, interrupted by a large swarm of what I thought were mosquitos. The second enlightenment came at a stop along the Airline Highway en route to Eastport. A wall of flying insects would be a diluted version.

Also known as buffalo gnats, turkey gnats, or white socks (not of the Chicago baseball kind), black flies are more than the defenders of wilderness. Take a look.

  1. They don’t seem to be a problem on windy days or along the ocean.
  2. There are actually more than 2,200 species of them, not that the ones I’ve seen ever look black.
  3. Their bites are particularly nasty or, at the least, a nuisance. Some even spread the disease river blindness.
  4. They’re found far beyond Maine. Scotland, northern Ontario, and Minnesota weigh in heavily, though Pennsylvania has been active in the battle against them.
  5. The eggs are laid in running water and are extremely sensitive to pollution.
  6. Bites are most often found on the face, hairline, neck, and back, though the pests are attracted to breathing and, thus, can enter the nose or mouth. Don’t overlook the ankles, either.
  7. They’re attracted to dark colors.
  8. They stretch the skin and then make shallow cuts with blade-like sections of their mouth before sucking blood.
  9. They’re most active for a few hours after sunrise and a few hours before sunset but totally inactive through the night.
  10. Folksinger Bill Staines made a hit of the logging camp song written by Canadian Wade Hesmworth. The line, “I’ll die with a blackfly pickin’ my bones,” rings especially true.

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