Bugs in the BWCA

Yes, there are still bugs in the Boundary Waters. I wouldn’t believe it unless I had experienced it first hand and I can honestly tell you there are still some mosquitoes roaming around as well as some biting flies.  Normally this time of the year would be bug free but nothing is normal about this year.

“OUCH!”  There isn’t anything in the Boundary Waters that makes me say “Ouch” more than a biting fly. The bad thing about them, besides the fact it hurts to get bit by one is that bug repellant doesn’t keep them away.  They are also quick and I normally can’t get revenge on them by killing them and I end up inflicting even more pain upon myself in an effort to slap them.

Which fly exactly am I talking about? Here’s a great description I saw in a recent article, I highlighted some of the important features.

Written by Tom Funke

A faithful reader has asked that I write an article about all the biting bugs we get to experience during Michigan’s warm months. This has been simmering on the back of my brain for several weeks as there are so many bugs to choose from.

Many of us are familiar with the pesky mosquito, the nagging black fly, the near invisible no-see-um, the horsefly and the deer fly. But there is an insect that has as special place on the flyswatter for me.

Last week, I was visiting Crisp Point on the shore of Lake Superior. It was a humid day, and the lighthouse volunteers (a family of four) were huddled in the gift shop building.

“Black Flies,” they said.

“Black Flies?” I replied, puzzled.

Black flies are a mid-spring malady in the north woods. They usually are long gone by Independence Day. I told them I would check it out and get back to them.

It didn’t take long, I knew exactly what the offending bug was within seconds of stepping on the beach.

“What you have is a bad case of the stable fly.” was my official response.

Also known as the barn fly, biting house fly, dog fly, or power mower fly, Stomoxys calcitrans is the same fly from which our livestock suffer. They are unusual for their family — they suck blood from their hosts.

Stable flies look identical to your normal house fly. One slight difference is a stable fly has a wider abdomen, probably to hold all that blood. Both male and females feed on the blood of just about any animal it can find, they are not picky eaters.

If you’ve ever set on the shore of Lake Superior on a wide, sandy beach during a hot, sunny, and humid day, you may have experienced these nasty little bugs. They are especially prevalent when there is a humid wind with any sort of southerly direction to it. It is hypothesized that the wind blows them out of the forest and onto the beach where they seek out to ruin our Upper Peninsula experiences.

Stable flies, when they bite, it hurts. And I really do mean hurt. Instead of a sponge, like most flies, their mouth parts resemble a dagger that pierces the skin.

They are quick, also and difficult to swat by hand. They are also not affected by bug spray. Yes, that is right, don’t even waste your time spraying yourself.

One saving grace is they tend to land on our leg. Keeping them covered will prevent them from biting. They are also only active during the day.

When done sucking your blood or that of a woodland critter, the stable fly male will mate with the female, and dies soon thereafter. The female will lay her eggs in rotting vegetation, dung, or other rotting material, then die as well.

The stable fly is yet another introduced species that wreaks havoc on humans. It is thought they were introduced into North America from Europe during the 1700’s when we brought horses and other livestock to the New World.

Thanks to Ed Koehn for the inspiration. Story ideas welcome at 50uphikes@gmail.com.