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Massachusetts is home to a number of fly pests, such as deer flies, horse flies, and greenhead flies, the latter of which is a species of horse fly. Unfortunately for Massachusetts residents, all three of these fly species swarm at around the same time of summer each year, and perhaps even worse, they bite. The bites that these insects inflict onto humans are not your typical spider or ant bites, as these flies can literally take a chunk of skin with their jaws, which often draws a surprising amount of blood. Of course, deer and horse flies do not inject venom into bite wounds like spiders, but their saliva enters the human bloodstream where it can cause allergic reactions for sensitive individuals. Swarms of deer and horse flies can terrify Massachusetts residents, especially those living on the coast where swarms are most frequent and heavy. Not surprisingly, these swarms can be a source of extreme stress and fright for the scientists who research these insects on the Massachusetts coast. However, in an effort to protect themselves from biting fly swarms, the researchers stumbled upon a novel method of reducing one’s chances of being attacked by swarms of these flies.

Deer flies typically attack humans, pets and livestock around the neck, head and shoulders in order to acquire a blood meal for their developing offspring. Male deer flies and horse flies, including greenflies, are harmless to humans; rather, it is the females that are vicious bloodthirsty biters. These flies only attack at night, but if a person should witness a nearby swarm during the day, then seeking refuge under shade greatly decreases the chance of sustaining bites. It is also important to stay still, as these flies are attracted to moving targets. In addition to these prevention methods, researchers on fly-heavy Nantucket Island resorted to a method of bite prevention that they initially believed to be an old wives tale. As it happens, deer and horse flies are attracted to bright colors, so bright colored clothing is not recommended in areas where swarms are possible. In order to test this method, researchers decided to attach a bright blue bucket to the side of a moving vehicle as opposed to resorting to other trapping methods that would expose them to the insects. Sure enough, the flies gravitated directly toward the moving bucket allowing them to catch a massive amount of specimens within a short amount of time. Since the flies also gravitate toward the upper body, the researchers strapped a bright blue trap to their heads, which also worked like a charm. So if you ever vacation in Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket Island, don’t wear blue.

Have you ever sustained a bite from a deer fly, horse fly, or greenhead fly?