The pests are back.
Black flies, sometimes referred to as buffalo gnats, are nuisances for Northsiders, especially for those who live near the Pearl River.
However, once the weather warms up for good, the northern nuisance will move on.
According to the Mississippi State extension service, “Black flies are tiny, blood-sucking flies in the insect family Simuliidae and are often called buffalo gnats or turkey gnats. Contrary to their name, black flies may be gray, tan, or even greenish.”
Buffalo gnats normally breed in fast-moving water like streams or rivers. Their natural habitat is in the northern regions of the U.S. and in Canada, and they usually bother humans, domestic animals and wildlife during the spring.
“In Mississippi, buffalo gnats are usually not a problem, but outbreaks are reported periodically,” the extension service Web site states. “In addition, there has been a particularly bad outbreak recently in communities along the Pearl River in central Mississippi.”
The black fly can be encountered from March to June and sometimes during a second peak of activity in the late fall.
Usually, black flies are a nuisance to people working or playing outdoors and bite around the head and neck.
“I’ve heard of several people that have had to go to the emergency clinic,” Northsider Jean Medley said. “In the neighborhood watch, there’s a real buzz, no pun intended, about them.”
Although the bites themselves are not fatal, some animals have been killed from swarming black flies, causing animals to run into large structures or trample smaller animals.
What’s more, wild birds and poultry have died from toxic, shock-like syndrome caused by the black fly’s saliva while it feeds.
“Certain species of buffalo gnats may transmit various diseases, including leucocytozoonosis, a disease of turkeys, geese, ducks and sometimes chickens,” the extension service states.
Luckily, buffalo gnats only bite during the daytime and rarely go indoors.
Ways to prevent you, your pets and animals from being bitten is to remain indoors when possible, provide shelters for poultry and create screen enclosures for birds.
“Many of these products contain the active ingredient permethrin… Repellents containing DEET have been reported effective for humans but may need to be reapplied frequently, and wearing light-colored clothing may help keep the gnats away,” the Web site states.
Adult flies generally only live four to five weeks and should go away when the hot summer months arrive.
“What had been working (last year) was the Victoria’s Secret Amber Romance,” Medley said. “It seems like it’s not working as well this year.”
Medley said the new thing that seems to keep the flies away this year is a product called Buggins insect repellant.
“The first place (to have it) was the golf shop at the Jackson County Club. Golfers have been affected by this, because they’re in that low, swampy area,” she said.”
Although some stores throughout the Jackson area are sold out of the product, it can be ordered online.
“I think they’re getting worse each year and staying longer,” Medley said. “They’ve been here April and May. Supposedly, when it gets warmer, they go away. It has something to do with receding water. But, I think the nearer you are to water, the more prevalent they may be.”
Medley said bites swell up enough to shut eyes or enlarge hands.
“Some people can’t sleep, because it itches so much. They take benedryl, and a lot of people say to start with ice (to keep swelling down).”
What also seems to work is vanilla, an ingredient found in the Buggins insect repellant, according to Medley.
Medley is part of the Sherwood Audubon neighborhood watch. Some comments in the watch include, “Hot dry weather will help to get rid of the pests,” and, “Heavy rain and flooding this year in particular have proven extremely conducive to the little devils along the Pearl River.”
Although Medley recently moved to Eastbrooke, located on Lakeland, the proximity to the Pearl River is enough for her to feel the effect of the irritating insect.
“Some people put netting over their face. People who have been bitten do whatever they can to not be bitten again.”