Thursday, June 28, 2012

Evening Break Wall Walk

Last night I attempted to have a beach fire east of town with a friend visiting from out of town. We knew that with warm temperatures and a south wind that the potential for stable flies was high. We were correct. The flies were horrible. Instead we headed to Sable Lake and cooked out at the overlook where the stiff south breeze kept the bugs away.

I decided to look on the internet to learn more about these annoying insects.

Here is the information published by the National Park Service about bitint insects in the Pictured Rocks Natonal Lakeshore area.

What's Biting You?
An outdoor adventure at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is an exhilarating experience but, at certain times of the year, our visitors can be distracted by the smallest inhabitants of the north woods: the biting flies.

Earliest to appear on the scene in mid-spring are the mosquitoes and black flies. The female mosquito, as with most biting flies, is the one doing the biting. She requires a blood meal in order to get enough protein for her eggs to develop properly. Most male biting flies feed on pollen or nectar from flowers. Male mosquitoes have feathery antennae and live about one week. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in calm or standing water, and the larvae are aquatic. Many diseases are transmitted by mosquitoes, and it is best to avoid their bites as much as possible.

Black fly larvae are also aquatic, but prefer to live in running water like streams or rivers. Black fly larvae attach themselves to rocks in the stream by a suction cup on their tail end, and filter out food particles from the water with their feathery fan-like structures around their mouths. After pupation, the adult black fly rides on a bubble of air to the waters surface and flies out of the water. The adult females are vicious biters, but luckily, North American black flies do not transmit disease to humans. Black fly attacks on people, cattle, horses and pigs tend to be concentrated around the ears and head. In addition to the blood loss, effects of the insect saliva can cause a variety of problems, with swelling and intense skin irritation most common.

In the streams black fly larvae attach themselves to rocks or other submerged materials and feed on organic particles they filter from the passing waters. Trailing vegetation or rotted aquatic plants also are attractive to black flies, providing sites for the larvae to attach for feeding. Breeding may also occur in rivulets formed by the flooding of fields.

The black fly life cycle can be rapid, taking about three weeks from egg laying to maturation of the adult. Only the female bites, the blood meal being used to provide protein for egg maturation. Adults live about two weeks. Populations can grow very rapidly. Two to four generations may be produced annually. Individual females may lay several hundred eggs.

Seldom seen or heard but sometimes felt is the No-See-Um, also called Punkies or Biting Midges. No-See-Ums resemble miniature, short-legged mosquitoes, and are usually less than 3 millimeters long. Only females of a few species bite humans. The majority bite other insects or eat nectar, but they also do bite humans. Their larvae are mostly aquatic and are scavengers or predators. No-See-Ums are less common than other biting flies in Pictured Rocks. At times they can have concentrated large populations, but they usually only last a day or so.

The stable fly is the biting fly at the Pictured Rocks beaches in mid to late summer. It is a relative of the house fly, but it bites. The stable fly is a blood-feeding pest known to attack almost any kind of warm-blooded animal. Its body is grey, with a distinctive checkerboard pattern on the abdomen. It is commonly referred to as the 'beach fly or black fly' and prefers to bite its victim's legs and ankles. Both the male and female stable fly bite, but they also feed on pollen. Unlike the other biting flies, the larvae of the stable fly are terrestrial, and live in and eat decaying vegetation. Stable flies are not known to transmit disease in humans, but are annoying enough to drive people away from beaches when they are numerous. It looks like the common house fly except that its mouthparts are adapted for biting and sucking blood. The stable fly feeds by inserting its proboscis (beak) through the skin and then sucking blood from its host. Females can live up to a month and may require several blood meals during this period in order to continue laying eggs. It is a daytime feeder, with peak biting occurring during the early morning and late afternoon.  

It is always best to play it safe and avoid being bitten by biting flies. Use protective clothing or insect repellant, and carry an allergy medicine or anti-histamine in case of an allergic reaction to a bite.

Here are a few photos I took out on the break wall last night. Unfortunately, clouds obscurred the sunset.

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