Pesky buffalo gnats on the way out


Rejoice: Those pesky, aggressive black flies — also known as buffalo gnats — won’t be biting much more skin this summer in Dubois County as the pests die off.

But as recalled by Shawn Werner, environmental health specialist at the Dubois County Health Department, there was once a time when the flies didn’t inhabit this portion of the state. And it wasn’t very long ago.

He stressed he’s not a scientist, but theorizes it’s possible the flies first came to the Dubois County area in 2008 or 2009 after extensive flooding swept the eggs and larvae south, causing the eggs to hatch here. They’ve since multiplied throughout Dubois County, wreaking havoc on anything and everything that gets close to them.

Werner said the bugs’ peak season here lasts from April through June. During that window, he said almost everywhere he goes, he sees them. They can be particularly bad near streams.

“I don’t know if they’re all completely gone (for the season), but I’ve been outside a lot lately and I have not had any really bother me here in the past week or two,” Werner said of the flies. “If you go outside where they’re at, you know it. They will not let you alone. They will follow you wherever you go and try to bite you.”

According to information from Purdue Extension, the flies are about a sixteenth of inch to an eighth of an inch in size and are relatively robust, with an arched thoracic region. They have large compound eyes, short antennae, and a pair of large, fan-shaped wings. The black fly should not be confused with the house fly, which is common in warm, summer conditions and does not bite humans.

Black flies can often cause painful bites that cause swelling in humans, livestock, poultry, and other wildlife. Although not known to cause disease in human victims, their bites can cause a wide range of reactions in humans and animals, from small punctures to golf-ball-sized swelling.

Ken Eck, Dubois County’s Purdue Extension’s agriculture and natural resources educator, said buffalo gnats have killed livestock at a family member’s farm. There, caged chickens were bit around the head and developed brain swelling. The flies are also capable of transmitting several disease agents to livestock, but none of them pose a threat to humans.

For all the pain — and itching, if you’re allergic —  humans experience from their bites, the flies we see here are believed to be relatively harmless.

Overseas, however, they can transmit a parasitic nematode worm that infects humans with a disease called river blindness in equatorial Africa and mountainous regions of northern South America and Central America.

As those pests head out for the year, Werner emphasized that county residents will need to continue to keep an eye out for and ticks and mosquitoes — bugs that will continue to be problem this summer. He explained because the area experienced a warm, wet spring, the bugs are more prevalent than normal because they have longer to reproduce and continue multiplying.

“The ticks are becoming a problem again this year,” Werner said. “Right now, they’re pretty plentiful, and the mosquito season is in full force as well because of the hot, wet weather.”

For ticks, Werner encouraged readers to wear DEET, avoid dead vegetation, and inspect themselves after being in the woods or in an area with high weeds. For mosquitoes, he encouraged readers to check their property for areas that hold water that could be used by mosquitoes to reproduce.

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