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Critters: Horse Flies and Deer Flies
© 2006

Horse flies and deer flies are bloodsucking insects that can be serious pests for cattle, horses, and humans. Horse flies range in sizes from 3/4 to 1-1/4 inches long, and usually have clear or solidly colored wings and brightly colored eyes.

Deer flies, which commonly bite humans, are smaller with dark bands across their wings and colored eyes similar to those of horse flies. Attack by a few of these persistent flies can make outdoor work and recreation miserable. The number of flies and the intensity of their attack vary from year to year.

Only the female horse fly bites. They are active during the day and are attracted to such things as movement, shiny surfaces, carbon dioxide, and warmth. Once on a host, they use their knife-like mouth parts to slice the skin and feed on the blood pool that is created. Bites can be very painful and there may be an allergic reaction to the salivary secretions released by the insects as they feed. The irritation and swelling from bites usually disappear in a day or so. However, secondary infections may occur when bites are scratched. General first aid-type skin creams may help to relieve the pain from bites. In rare instances, there may be allergic reactions involving hives and wheezing. Male flies feed on nectar and are of no consequence as animal or human pests.

DEET, the chemical repellent for mosquitoes, also works to repel the horse fly and the deer fly, but may not last as long as for mosquitoes. Horseflies breed in wetland areas and are strong fliers. Breeding sites may be extensive, and some distance away from where the problem is occurring.

No data was found on any diseases directly transmitted by either the deer fly or the horse fly. Secondary infections from their bites are their biggest threat to humans.

DEET = N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide