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Other Flies I Have Known

By Kevin Callan

There's a lot of text out there on dealing with blackflies and mosquitoes; and for good reason - they're just nasty. But what about all the other bothersome bugs plaguing the north woods? Well, here's a break down of some of the worst.

Horseflies and Deerflies
Horseflies and deerflies have to be on top of the list. These bothersome insects are not only one of the most fierce, painful biters; they're also excellent fliers, having the ability to chase you down the trail or portage (the record speed for a horsefly is 112 km/hr. or 67 mph). They're well known for patiently "buzzing" around your head until they find a safe place to land, and are mostly attracted to shinny objects, which is why the shimmer of wet skin on swimmers draws them in for miles around. Their bites are also the most infectious; first because they are carriers of such diseases as anthrax, tularemia and hog cholera; and second because they literally take a chunk of skin out of you, leaving behind a trail of blood and an open wound which can cause severe secondary infection.

The deerfly usually hunt in groups of four to five and is the most common of the two pests, which is a good thing since horse flies are almost three times the size. The deer fly is slightly larger than a house fly, has a yellow to light brown abdomen with darker stripes, a darker pattern to the wings, and bright green or gold eyes.

Sand fly
Another irritating insect is the sandfly, or what's more commonly known as "no-see'-ums." I hate these miniature pests, especially because they have the ability to squeeze themselves through the fine bug-mesh sewn to your tent door. There have been a few nights, especially in the province of Quebec, where I've camped on a scenic sandbar and quickly become overwhelmed by these tiny midges. They're almost impossible to see, and just as difficult to hear. But their bite is a nasty one. It feels like a hot ash from the campfire landing on your bare skin. In fact, a second nickname for them is "punkies," derived from the Native word "punk," meaning "living ashes."

Stable fly
Stable flies are also quite annoying. Many people mistake these bugs for biting house flies. They do have some resemblance. But make no mistake, these things really hurt. They usually go for the ankles and are equipped with a sharp, piercing mouthpart capable of penetrating the thickest of wool socks. Unlike other biting insects, which snip and slice, stable flies jab their slender proboscis into your skin. Then, miniature recurved spines at the tip of the proboscis grab hold while the mouth part is moved from side-to-side, enabling the insect to get deeper and deeper. The worst part, however, is both the male and female bite.

The very worst out there, in my opinion, is the tick. The very thought of having one of these parasites feeding on you is enough to make your skin crawl. It's not so much that they are known vectors of Lyme disease and that they feed by plunging their beaklike mouthpart deep inside you and then secrete a cement-like saliva which literally glues them in place. It's the fact that they prefer dark and moist places on your body to attach themselves to; places like armpits, bellybutton holes, and, you guessed it, your crotch. These are all places I'd rather not have something nibbling at.

Performing regular tick checks are crucial in heavily tick infested areas. It's best to use the buddy system for this. Of course, this can get embarrassing at times. I'll never forget when my wife and I, while traveling through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, began our nightly routine of stripping down and checking each other's private parts for embedded ticks, when a group of Boy Scouts paddled by. I tried to explain to them what we were doing, which, according to my wife, made the scenario even worse.

Symptoms of Lyme disease:

  • A circular red rash forming around the bitten area

  • Flue-like symptoms

  • Painful joints

  • Insomnia

  • Local paralysis

  • Skin sensations

  • Hearing loss

If you do find a tick lodged into your skin, make sure not to panic and start yanking away at it. You're just liable to pull the thing in half, leaving its head inside you and increase the chances of infection. The best way is to first spray it with a good amount of bug repellent. This will definitely force it to relax its grip, since the tick actually breaths out of its butt while its head is lodged into your skin. Don't burn it with a cigarette or match like some older guide books recommend. This will just make the tick hold on tighter and become more difficult to get out. After allowing some time for the repellent to take effect, place a pair of tweezers (tick pliers can also be purchased at most outdoor stores), and, without squeezing the tick, reach inside, beneath the body, and gently pull it out. Then disinfect the area with antiseptic or soap and water.

Check out Kevin Callan's web site:

Kevin Callan is the author of eight books including "A Paddlers Guide to Quetico and Beyond." and "The Happy Camper: An Essential Guide to Life Outdoors." He is a recipient of the National Magazine Award and a regularly featured speaker at North America's largest paddling events.

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