We knew they’d come eventually. The predominantly sunny, warm weather had to bring horse flies and deer flies sooner or later, and now they’re here in force.
There are slight differences between horse and deer flies, not easily recognized, and in the end, inconsequential. What matters is that both of them are big flies, up to around an inch long, they swarm during hot, dry weather, and both bite horribly. As a regional naturalist puts it, the only good thing about them is that they take so long to bite that you can usually swat them before they get around to it. When they do, they stab with a big, sharp tongue. I’ve lived more than 30 years in Alaska, and I don’t believe I’ve ever had a complete fly bite, but I’ve had plenty of bites started, and that’s painful enough!
Because they seem to need fair weather, they don’t come around that often. Unfortunately, they thrive when the weather’s right for swimming or other activities that expose a lot of skin. They swarm close to water, and are mysteriously attracted to the color blue. One or two of them can quickly ruin a good day of fishing. If they find you becalmed in a sailboat, they’ll torture you.
We actually saw a few flies before Sunday, when they got thick. I don’t know what kept them, but I suspect it’s a type of hornet we commonly call yellow jackets. One of the first summers we owned the homestead, Haines experienced a yellow jacket “epidemic.” On one visit, we were plagued by flies, but on the next, they’d almost completely disappeared. One morning as I explored the rocky beach, I saw yellow jackets patrolling the areas horse and deer flies usually frequent. I think they were hunting the flies!
Dragonflies are avid fly eaters as well, and the flies know it! When we installed one of the picture windows, we managed to time it between fly hatchings. We knew when they next hatched, because the weather was sunny the whole time. On one particular afternoon, the flies suddenly began to swarm. At that moment, I was holding a 4X6 picture window in place by myself. I watched helplessly as the flies circled. Suddenly, the shadow of a large dragonfly streaked across the wall in front of me, and the flies immediately disappeared. Newly hatched, they recognized the silhouette of a killer! We really liked dragonflies before this happened. Imagine how our esteem for them increased that day!
Like all the other biting insects, and things that dampen our enthusiasm now and then, horse and deer flies are annoying, but not that significant in the long run. The memory of even the worst swarms soon fades when sunny summer days are recalled.