Friday, June 8, 2018


Working outdoors has many benefits.  We keep saying that to ourselves every year the blackflies (aka buffalo gnats) hatch and give us grief because we need the reminder.  This year, we've been needing that reminder a good deal more than normal.
Buffalo Gnat (courtesy IL Dept Public Health)
These gnats aren't like many other gnats that can be irritating - especially when they dive into your eyes, ears or throat.  In addition to the ability to seek out facial orifices, these little nasties also BITE.  According this article on the Illinois Department of Public Health website:

"... black flies bite using their mouthparts like scissors to cut into skin and lap up the blood. This results in painful bites that can produce bleeding, itching, inflammation and swelling, as well as allergic reactions that can be life-threatening."
This year, reports that the blackfly population has been higher than usual have come in from other farmers in Iowa, as well as locations in Illinois and Oklahoma.  And, I am sure there are plenty of other locations I just have not noticed.  In some locations, there have been reports of buffalo gnats killing poultry and a couple of the eagle chicks in Decorah succumbed to these varmints as well.  A few years ago, we lost several ducks to blackflies, so we can attest to the veracity of these reports.  Birds can look great in one instant and decline rapidly to a point where they cannot be resuscitated. 
Kennedy uses the 'cover up' approach to pest control
Of course, the humans on the farm have a tough time with these critters as well.  Early on during this year's hatch, Rob got caught with short sleeves and wound up with significant bites all over his arms after just 10 minutes of exposure.  Some have reported that vanilla helps repel the buffalo gnat, but we haven't noticed that it works for very long - if at all.  If you like the smell of vanilla, I guess that could be nice.  But, it seems as if you might need to re-apply every ten minutes.  That doesn't work very well if you work outside all day.

The Thistle Eradication Forces (TEF) know how to dress for success

We've found about all you can do to protect yourself is to cover up.  That means we're wearing long sleeves, glasses, ear protection and bandanas - even when temps get into the 90's (F). 

For those that are looking to chemicals for help - never mind.  See the following from the Ill Dept of Health page:

"Black flies are difficult to repel. Suggested “home remedy” repellents, such as vanilla extract, have not been scientifically proven effective. DEET-containing repellents that deter mosquitoes are much less effective at repelling black flies and have even been reported to attract the flies. Permethrin-containing repellents labeled for application only to clothing offer some protection.
The application of pesticides for black fly control often meets with limited success. In some situations, liquid residual pesticides may be effective when applied to surfaces where flies land. Fogging in the form of ultra-low volume (ULV) treatments like those used for mosquito control can be useful in some circumstances, but provide only temporary relief."

Our crew have handled the situation well.  Of course all of us prefer a good bit of wind during this time of the season because the buffalo gnat won't bother you much if there is a nice breeze.  Sadly, there have been many calm days of late, so we've just had to cover up and try to ignore the pests.  Rob and Tammy have both noted that the presence of blackflies tends to make both of us tense up a bit - so we're more tired than we should be by the end of the day.

Observations about blackflies on the farm from ourselves and the crew:

  • Yes, buffalo gnats DO hit your glasses or goggles with enough force that you can hear and feel them tapping on it.
  • No matter how hard you try, you cannot ignore a gnat that flies into your eyes, ears, nose or throat.
  • A gnat bite IN the nose can give you a nose bleed.
  • Gnats tend to find the borders/edges of clothing but usually do not go beyond that.  
  • Once you've been bit by a gnat, many more gnats are going to go for that spot or that area of your body.  It's probably best to make an adjustment early rather than trying to 'tough it out.'
  • We're all looking forward to the end of blackfly season. 
  • Blackflies do not taste all that bad if you give them a good 'chew.'

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