Friday, May 9, 2008

Shoo, fly.

High: 68° F
Low: 35° F
Conditions: Partly cloudy with rain arriving late
Maine has six seasons, and we’ve just entered the most unpleasant one of all: blackfly month. You can’t really understand how especially terrible this season is until you’ve experienced it first-hand. When Greg and I moved here seven years ago, we took the natives’ warnings about black fly season in stride, thinking they were either prone to tremendous exaggeration or eager to offer a big helping of highly fictionalized local lore to a pair of gullible newcomers.

Sadly, neither was the case.

The black fly (Simulium venustum) is an impossibly pernicious creature that looks far more like a gnat than it does a house fly. I recently found this 19th-century rendering of the insect by someone who had clearly never encountered a living black fly in Maine:

Had the artist lived here during early summer, he would not have been able to devote the meticulous time and care needed to complete this homage. In fact, I dare say that the mere thought of spending this much time contemplating Simulium venustum would drive even a resolute mortal mad. Had the artist maintained the stalwart steeliness needed to complete the task, he surly would have at least included devil horns and a pitchfork or something else to indicate the fly's malevolence.
I mean that sincerely. This fly is evil.
Never in my life have I truly hated another living creature. That is, until I met the black fly. Now, before you think me overly dramatic or uncharitable, let me explain myself. Black flies swarm in groups of hundreds if not thousands. Like mosquitoes, they are attracted by heat and carbon dioxide, which makes dogs and humans walking blackfly feeders. Unlike the mosquito, however, the black fly is not content with a little casual drilling for blood. No, this little devil prefers to rip off a hunk of flesh larger than its head. In its place, it leaves a mild toxin that results in a nasty red lump that both itches and throbs at the same time. Here is one of multiple pictures we found on the web, all displaying their injuries as if evidence in a metaphysical court of animal justice:

People in New England try their best to have a good sense of humor about black fly season, which runs from Mother’s Day to Father’s Day each year. Our favorite microbrew has a black fly stout with a label that only mildly embellishes the experience of anyone who dares to go outdoors this time of year:
Our local ice cream company, Giffords, offers a limited-batch ice cream called Maine Black Fly.
I ordered it once, thinking it a suiting salve to my welts. But I soon discovered the hunks of strawberry and mini-chocolate chips looked way too much like my neck and arms for me to enjoy the cone. Even Ari didn't want to finish it.
Like most dogs in our area, Ari is no fan of blackflies, either. The insects are particularly attracted to orifices and wet tissue like the eye--especially if said eye is husky-blue. They don’t respond to the caninaturalist's nips in the air or her sullen barks, either. In fact, she's pretty much as powerless as I am to their assault. Still, Ari has one very important tactical advantage: Simulium venustum prefers to swarm higher, rather than lower, so in a crowd of creatures, they will almost always pick the highest one among them. I swear the caninaturalist has figured this out for herself: these days on our walks, she hangs particularly close to me, then acts oblivious when I turn it a swatting, cursing crazy person while she remains relatively unaffected.
This does not please me.
Here’s the worst irony of all: black flies need really clean running water to reproduce. So they’re a sign of how healthy our ecosystem is right now. That’s a bittersweet pill to swallow, especially this week. In honor of National Dog week, the Carnival of Green Pets is currently underway on the Web. Organized by Pets for the Environment, this weeklong project seeks to raise awareness about eco-friendly initiatives for pets and the threat of toxins in animals. It’s really made us aware of what a crucial role healthy environments play in the lives of healthy pets.
Their's is a worthwhile project if ever there was one. And after reading some of the information on their site, we know we’re lucky to live in a place with running water clean enough to breed black flies. We just wish Simulium venustum didn't feel the need to express appreciation for their clean environment in quite such a bloody way.
For her part, Ari is still working on devising a way to bite back. Knowing her, she’ll figure it out soon. Until she does, though, I’m sticking to a daily dose ice cream and beer--at least until Father's Day.


The Daily Echo said...

We HATE bugs. They're annoying. We've had a Stink Bug invasion here in PA the past year. One fell behind Dad's dashboard on his way home from work and it was awful!!

Me & my puppies said...

We have a similiar pest here and currently my legs are swollen with itchy bites. But I still love springtime!

sugarcreekstuff said...

Northern Michigan is the same way but with deer and horse flies mid summer. Lucky for me I'm in southern Michigan. I feel for you and Ari, hopefully time will "FLY" for you.

Khyra The Siberian Husky said...

Our poor Maine pals!

That's so nasty to read -

Hope the beer and ice khream do the trikhk!

PeeEssWoo: Wasn't it just khool to see Amici bloggin' again!?!?!?

Amici said...

Blackfly season definitely isn't fun. I've never been to Gritty's but my humans have and they like it.

That ice cream looks yummy!

Rhea said...

I hope Ari can figure out a way to bite them back soon! They look like nasty little buggers. ick

Holly said...

Reminds me of the nasty horse flies in Minnesota that mom told me use to bite really bad when she was on the lake. She said they were the size of nickels!!

So, I understand your pain and irritation. Flies are nasty!


umekotyan said...

Hello Ari.
Black fly exists also in my country.
It is near the cowhouse etc.
It is scary black fly to be bitten.
It increases to it, and the beer and the ice cream are the consideration of interesting black fly.
A wonderful weekend to escape from black fly. :)

from loved ume tyan

Anonymous said...

YIKES! It sounds awful. I think I could see horns and an evil sneer in that picture of the black fly.

The beer and ice Cream sound like fun, though!

The Army of Four said...

Those sound HORRIBLE! Stormy especially doesn't like flies - she'd REALLY not like those!
I hope they go away soon! Nasty things!!!

Gary,Charity,Katie&Louis said...

I recently heard that plain vegetable shortening was really good for keeping flies away. I'm not sure if it would work for the evil black flies, but it might be worth a try.

Gunner said...

Man I hate flies!
Dirty, buzzy, creepy insects....I try to chomp em' but their sneaky.

Thank dog they don't have too many here or I'd be wearin one of those bee suits!


Eve said...

Ok the ice cream and beer sounds like a plan. But I have to say I am very sorry for you guys. We get the black flies, and my husband was eaten alive by something as he mowed the lawn today. But we have one little thing to help us out around here....THE WIND....THE STINKING ROTTEN WIND....sorry did I protest???
Well I had no problem today because where I was sitting, digging my garden...the wind kept me in a sweatshirt and the black flies at bay.
Well guys I'm glad for the ecosystem, but sad for your woes.
Hang in there it's almost over...well not really, but I'm just trying to help.
(if you can't tell I've been spending way too many hours in the dirt).

Stacey Huston said...

LOL great post.. black flies really are a pain. at least Ari has a coat to sort of protect her.. Good luck !

John Theberge said...

I was doing yardwork this past week when I was attacked by the first blackflies of the season. Mosquitos are lightweights compared to the them.
The book I'm working on is primarily a photo book, I've been visiting the same area for over 20 years so I have quite a library of photos. It'll be mostly photos but I do tell some stories behind the pictures. Two major roads go passed the Sabattus River, Rt. 126 and Rt 196 so thousands of people pass it on a daily basis and I'm sure 99% don't give it a glance. With the book I want to show what they miss.

Gus and Louie said...

We want to wish your mom a very Happy Mom's Day. Canine Mom's and human Mom's are very special people.. Be sure and give your Mom extra kisses on this very special day!!

Happy Mom's Day!!
Gus and Louie

Southbay Girl said...

Yucky Black flies-they look awful! I don't think mom and I would like them!!! But the ice cream and the beer looked yummy to mom-ok the ice cream looked yummy to me too! At least it isn't snowing? And Black fly season only lasts about a month-it's a shame you couldn't hide for a month


Kapp pack said...

Yuck, yuck and double yuck!

Woo woo, KA

JB's Big World said...

I never heard of such flies! This sounds awful. I am sure JB would like them but of course would want to bring them in the house to play! I guess it is sort of like the mounds of crickets we had one year just after I moved to TX....gobs of crickets everywhere like an invasion.
--JB's mom (and JB too)

Maverick the Pirate said...

Harrrrr Ari
we hate bugs Harrrrr. Yer Cap'n Has tagged you on me blog also go and check it out Harrr.
Cap'n Maverick the Pirate