Black flies are uninvited guests to the outdoors party
By Mike Lynch
If you’ve spent time outdoors in the Adirondacks in the spring, you’re bound to have a black fly story.
Most go something like this:
You were out hiking, paddling or perhaps gardening on a beautiful 60-degree day. The flowers were blooming, the sky was overcast and the air humid.
Finally enjoying warm weather after months of freezing temperatures, you suddenly noticed you weren’t alone.
In fact, dozens, perhaps hundreds of small bugs swarmed your head and seemed to land on every inch of exposed skin. You tried to swat them away, but soon your skin started to itch and perhaps blood began running down the back of your neck, or from your ear or forehead. After a while, you abandoned the idea of enjoying the woods, and made a beeline to your vehicle or house, where you breathed a sigh of relief at being left alone.
These small insects can ruin your day, but they don’t have to if you’re prepared for them, and doing so isn’t difficult.
You should know black fly season is generally from Mother’s Day to Father’s Day or into early July, with the peak roughly in the middle. The flies breed in cold, clean running water and emerge when water temperatures hit the 40s. They seem to be very active during humid and overcast days and can be found in abundance in wet areas with currents, such as beaver swamp outlets.
Black fly activity peaks from 9 to 11 a.m. and from 4 to 7 p.m., or until the sun falls below the horizon, according to University of New Hampshire research.
The season generally ends after a series of dry days in the 80-plus degree range.
Now that you know the basics, what can you do?
“The best defense that you can have is going to be your clothing in the summertime,” said Noah Haber, assistant manager at Adirondack Mountain Club’s High Peaks Information Center.
Dress as you would in tick country. Cover up as much of your skin as possible with light-colored clothing because black flies are attracted to dark colors such as brown and red. Wear thin pants, long-sleeved shirts, a head net and even glove liners to protect hands. Tuck your pants into your socks. You can treat the clothing with an insecticide like permethrin or bug spray.
You might look a little awkward, but it will be worth it.
“I promise, at the end of the day, if you’re wearing a head net and your buddy’s not, your buddy will be all covered in black fly bites on his neck and face and head,” Haber said, “and you won’t really care as much about how you look.”
He noted that bug sprays directly on the skin can provide some protection, but they wear off, especially if you’re active and sweating.
What are your tips for dealing with black flies? Have you seen them on the trails so far this season?