It’s black fly season again in New England (as if you didn’t already know). Here’s a humorous take on how to survive New England’s perennial spring pest.
By Yankee Magazine
May 05 2015
Black flies belong to the genus Simulium, which includes hundreds of different species. Among those found in New England are: S. piscaggravatum, which tends to hover around fishermen; S. gardannoyia, the bane of gardeners from Calais to Connecticut; S. trekinterruptus, the hiker’s nemesis; and S. brahminium, which prefers the blue blood of Beacon Hill residents.
Black flies feed in the daytime. (At night, they hang out at black-fly bars and tell stories about “the big guy that got away.”) Thus, one way to avoid them is simply to do all outdoor activities—such as raking, gardening, and picnicking—at night. (Activities that involve sharp objects and motorized vehicles are not recommended.)
Black flies tend to bite where the skin is thin, such as the nape of the neck, the ears, and the ankles. Knowledge of these prime locations is passed on from generation to generation in schools, where young flies are also taught to “Just say no” to DEET.
In times past, hunters and fishermen used a variety of homemade concoctions to repel black flies, including a mixture of kerosene and mutton tallow, which might have kept the bugs away but didn’t do much for their love lives.
Black flies lay their eggs in running water (mosquitos had already locked up the still-water franchise). In 1899, Miss R. O. Phillips at Cornell U. provided a detailed analysis of the breeding habits of black flies as part of her graduating thesis, a study that earned her the title of “Girl You Least Want to Be Paired With at a Mixer.”
Only female black flies bite, while males dine on plant nectar. The female prefers blood because “I’m eating for several hundred, you know.” Even those that don’t bite can be annoying, as they swarm in large numbers, like motorists on holiday weekends.
Black flies tend to swarm near the face because they’re attracted to the carbon dioxide in people’s breath. Therefore, one obvious way to avoid them is simply to stop breathing. If that seems excessive, you could also purchase a gas mask, available at all fine survivalist outfitters.
Over the years, enterprising Yankees have peddled a wide variety of creams and lotions designed to fend off black flies. In the 1800s, A. S. Hinds of Portland, Maine, touted his Black Fly Cream as “not objectionable even to the most fastidious,” though he declined to say what was in it. The only substance proven to repel black flies is DEET (diethyl-mermanol), which, despite some people’s concerns, is perfectly safe as long as you don’t put it on your skin.
The average black fly weighs about as much as a snowflake, which means that a good stiff breeze tends to disperse them. Thus, if you really want to avoid the little buggers, take a trip up Mount Washington, which basically invented the “stiff breeze.”
Activity peaks from 9 to 11 a.m., after which black flies take a coffee break, and union flies don’t return to work until about 4 p.m. In 1987, an ill-fated swarm of black flies stayed out past curfew and spent the entire night trying to draw blood from a plastic wading pool, an embarrassment to the black-fly community to this day.
A wide variety of plants have been alleged to repel black flies, including marigolds, citronella, eucalyptus, parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. Apparently if you surround yourself with such vegetation you’ll be black fly–free. Of course, you’ll also smell like an organic food store, and hemp fanatics will try to recruit you.
Conventional wisdom calls for light-colored clothing and head nets to keep black flies away. Real Yankees put the finishing touch on with duct tape to seal the deal.
Got any tips for black fly season in New England? Drop ’em in the comments below.