The Flies of the New Brunswick Wilderness
also of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island
Walking about naked brings numerous health benefits, both physical and psychological. This is indisputably correct – those who dispute the rightness of naturism usually fall back on superstitions about morality rather than dealing with real issues. However, there are a few health problems too, usually resulting from sunburn and insect bites. For sunburn the twin answers are common sense and appropriate sunscreen. For the insects it helps to know your enemies.
If you’re a New Brunswicker, Nova Scotian or anyone else from almost anywhere except the inner cities of North America probably you already know everything written below. But folks from far away – for instance, those who have been living in the depths of an urban area, or in a cave on Mars – might benefit from reading the rest of this post.
Here in New Brunswick (and adjacent provinces) the usual suspects bugging you are, in ascending order of size: midges, blackflies, mosquitoes, stable flies, deer flies, horse flies and greenhead flies. Why does this matter? It matters because these various sorts of flies are very different critters, respond to different stimuli, often attack different areas of the body and require different responses and preventative measures.
Disclaimer: What works for one person may not necessarily work for all others. Personal body chemistry may bring about different results. Some people are just naturally attractive.
New Brunswick has at least two kinds of midges the Chironomidae family and the Ceratopogonidae family. Those of the Chironomidae family are non-biting midges, they simply lack the mouth parts to do it. In fact, adult Chironomidae do not feed at all, they spend their brief lifespan focussed on mating and reproduction, then expire and their little corpses feed other species. Those of the Ceratopogonidae family are biting midges, the dreaded no-see-ums.
Midges look a lot like mosquitoes but aren’t. They are tiny, only 1-3 mm in length, but their bites still sting like crazy. Only the female midge bites humans. Typically midges are grayish, becoming more reddish when filled with blood. Their wings display dark patterns. Ceratopogonidae midges, are creatures of the late afternoon and early evening and they are not at all particular about where they bite you.
So what keeps midges at bay? Well, 98% DEET seems to work but do you really want to do that to yourself? I don’t. The efficacy of lower concentrations of DEET is questionable. Midges are nothing if not persistent. However, they are weak fliers and do poorly in windy conditions so the siting of your camp can be an important factor.
Some people claim that 0.5% permethrin spray is a do-all for dealing with midges and everything else including deer ticks. But permethrin is a problem in that it is a NERVE AGENT. It doesn’t repel the insects, it attacks the little beggars’ nervous system and kills them outright. Permethrin is intended to be sprayed onto clothing, NOT ONTO SKIN. So permethrin isn’t a safe choice for naturists. Err on the side of caution and don’t use it except on clothing. As of 2019 permethrin is not approved for sale in Canada; it can be imported from the US but the price is startling once you’ve paid for shipping. Maybe that is a good thing – I wouldn’t use it. Call me a wimp but I just don’t feature spraying myself with nerve gas.
Other folks claim that picaradine is the good option – I like it. Picaridin is synthetic piperine, an alkaloid extracted from the black pepper vine. Like DEET it works by disorienting and repelling insects, not by slaughtering them wholesale. Picaridin based repellents such as Icaridin and Piactive can be found in retail outlets such as Canadian Tire or the Temple of Wal.
What do I do? When sitting around the campfire I rely of smoke from some sort of resinous wood – pine cones and cedar seem to be fairly effective but don’t keep 100% of them away. I supplement the smoke with a picaridin based spray and that seems to work for me, but maybe that has more to do with the time of day than anything else. They are attracted to light so one can hope that they fly too close to the campfire’s flames and meet a horrible fiery fate.
When it comes right down to it repellents provide only limited protection. The best way to avoid being bitten by the dreaded no-see-um is to schedule your outdoor activities in a manner that avoids the daily peak the midges’ activity.
Point of interest: I have yet to see a biting midge at Kellys Beach.
|Midge in flight – Image thanks to ClipArtMag|
Folks from away might not know this but the blackfly is New Brunswick’s unofficial provincial bird. Oh sure, the black-capped chickadee is a lot cuter but we have so many more blackflies that people have made up tales and (in Ontario) even a song about them. If anyone should tell you to go easy on the poor little blackfly because he pollinates blueberry plants look them in the eye and call “bullshit.” This is a silly folk tale and has been proven false, so feel free to swat the little pests.
These guys are small, not much more than 4mm long in a resting posture. Black fly populations burgeon with the onset of spring and can last well into July. The females of the species bite only during daylight hours and tend to home in on areas of thinner skin – neck, ears and ankles. Of course, if you’re naked there are more such areas. Blackflies are puddle feeders, what this means is that they gnaw a hole in your skin, wait for the blood to well up and lap up all that red goodness, possibly transmitting pathogens to you in the process.
Be judicious in your use of repellents. DEET and picaridin are the most effective repellents, but they provide limited protection. However, blackflies like shade and are not strong fliers so even mildly breezy beaches are your friends in this matter.
|Blackfly displayed – Image thanks to Google Free Clipart Library|
There are thirty-seven different species of mosquitoes in New Brunswick – Woo hoo! No, not really woo hoo, more like “Yuck!” Of these thirty-seven species, thirteen are considered to be major pests for human, one (anopheles) is minor and the remainder rarely bite humans. Only one of the major pests (ochlerotatus cantator) breeds in salt marshes. So, in terms of what you might encounter at Kellys Beach, this is the one. It is also the most common mosquito species found throughout New Brunswick.
So, how do we deal with this pest, and all other musky toes? Easily, it seems. All mossies seem to be put off by the usual range of easily available repellents – DEET, picaridin, etcetera. Besides, when the sun is out on the beach the mossies are cowering in the shade somewhere else. Wind is another ally against mosquitoes which can make a maximum forward speed of five km/hr (3 mph) and a pleasant breeze on a beach usually exceeds that speed. So you’re good on the beach but if you’re inclined to hike naked in the woods bring along some bug spray that doesn’t bother your skin.
|Mosquito preying – Image thanks to Clipartbarn|
Some visitors to Kellys Beach whinge and moan about the flies, not midges, mosquitoes or blackflies, but deer flies. Well, first of all, the flies that are sometimes a problem at Kellys are NOT deer flies. Yes, sometimes (rarely) there are a few deer flies at Kellys and some horse flies, particularly on the North Kouchibouguac Dune, but on Kellys most commonly the problem is either or both black stable flies or greenhead flies. See the pix in the text below.
Deer Flies and Horse Flies
Deer flies and horse flies are closely related, both being members of the Tabanidae family. They are known for their speed (some species reaching 145 km/hr in case you're wondering – no, I didn't forget a decimal point) and aerobatic abilities. Swatting a horse fly in flight is a good game to play provided you don't mind losing almost all of the time. As with many other species of biting fly, only the females bite. Adult female horse flies have mouthparts that are sort of the Swiss Army knife of biting flies: a strong stabbing blade, two pairs of sharp cutting blades and a sponge-like bit used to mop up the blood from the wound. And it is a real wound that they inflict. Horse flies can transfer blood-borne diseases from one animal to another. If you get bitten, treat it as a real wound, clean it and disinfect it as soon as possible. If you're at a sea beach and have nothing else at hand to do the job wash it out with salt water. Sure, it'll hurt like stink but that's preferable to developing, for instance, tularemia.
|Horse fly image thanks to Bruce Marlin and Wikimedia Commons|
Deer flies and horse flies most often attack the uppermost part of your body, your head for instance. There are ways and means of dealing with this issue, for instance wearing long upright feathers or a fake dragonfly on your hat – yeah, you look like a dufus but you don’t get bitten. (Decoy dragonflies can be bought on-line.) Or, speaking of dufusses (dufii?) you can opt to carry an umbrella treated with diluted Tanglefoot. Neither deer flies nor horse flies respond well to repellants unless you are using something that will probably kill you too – DEET has no effect. Deer flies are quite fragile; horse flies are not. Deer flies can be dealt with by means of a cheap swatter; horse flies seem to require a billy club. No, seriously, a good smack with a baseball cap should incapacitate them long enough for you to beat them to death with the club.
|Deer fly image thanks to Wikimedia Commons|
The black stable flies at Kellys are the primary cause of annoyance to sunbathers. These critters are small all-black versions of the standard housefly, about 8-9 mm long from head to the tips of their folded wings. They are quite sturdy little creatures and often need to be swatted then stomped because they will stagger to their feet and fly away from a swat alone. Like the blackflies they are puddle feeders. They prefer to dine on the lower portions of the body – calves and ankles – and they don’t give a damn about DEET. However, they do not like to chew their way through oil and a generous slathering of baby oil both puts them off and slows them down so that you can swat and stomp before they can bite. Re-apply the baby oil after swimming or wading, and whenever you notice that it is losing its effectiveness.
|Black stable fly image thanks to Fir0002/Flagstaffotos and Wikimedia Commons|
Greenhead flies (Tabanus nigrovittatus) are the worst of the bunch. In fact they are a large type of horse fly so everything already said about that species applies to the greenheads. Greenheads are BIG and they don't seem to have any particular preference about where to bite. When they bite they actually take a chunk of skin out of you. Luckily they are slow to bite following lighting on your skin, stupid and surprisingly fragile. A simple swat usually kills them but feel free to give them a stomp to register your disapproval of their species. Also lucky is the fact that their season is short. Repellents don't work against the greenheads any better than they do against the stable flies.
|Greenhead fly image thanks to Maximilian Paradiz and Wikimedia Commons|
Meanwhile, some guy in New Jersey has invented a device that he claims wards them off. This is the "Greenhead Greenaid" which he sells from a website of the same name. On this item I have no opinion. I will reserve judgement until I have seen it work, or not. If you try it please let me know if it was worth the $20 US.
So there you go, there is the line-up of usual suspects. Have fun in the sun . . . and say a word of thanks to every dragonfly you see, they prey on every one of the pest species noted above.