Black Flies on Mountaintops

By Amy Miller

I might as well move to Alaska where you have to walk around with a net over your head all summer. The little black flies were so bad at the top of Blueberry Mountain in the White Mountain National Forest of Maine (that’s right! The Whites Mountains cross into Maine) that I couldn’t even sit at the summit long enough to eat my brownie.

No gloating at the top for us. Down we rushed from the 1,780-foot peak in the Caribou Speckled Mountain Wilderness Area. And although I didn’t notice it during the three-mile loop, come to find out the bugs were not just buzzing in and out of my mouth and eyes, but had taken enough tiny chunks to leave more bumps and welts than I could scratch with two hands.

Why was I surprised? Do I normally stay inside in May and June? According to Maine Humorist Tim Sample, Black Flies are the unofficial Maine State bird. And the Maine Outdoors website said black flies are most common in wooded, wet areas with lots of standing water. And they especially like hot calm days with little wind. AHA!

So what is a hiker to do? Wear long sleeves or pants, is one idea. At least it’s a good idea if you like to hike around in summer in long sleeves and pants. But then you are probably already doing that to protect against ticks. Not me. I like my shortie shorts and tank top.

A little research and I learned black flies are about 1/16th to 1/8th of an inch long. While mosquitoes breed in still water, black flies breed in running water. Like with mosquitoes, bites come only from the adult females.

Repellents can help: anything from a popular moisturizer to 90 percent DEET to little hunks of garlic cloves, depending on who you ask.

Since the bugs tend to leave you alone when you are hiking, I cringe to think what I would look and feel like if I had stopped for more than 30 seconds at the summit. But let me tell you, the hike was well worth it. We came to a pool at the bottom of a waterfall that would have been worth the $500 airfare to Costa Rica. But next time I head up to the White Mountains of Maine (really, they exist), I will remember zip-on legs and a neck bandana.

About the author:  Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

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