If you own livestock or horses, you likely know about the nuisances that are deer flies and horse flies. These two fly species are alarmingly large, and the females feed on blood. Their bites are painful, and they can also spread infectious diseases and parasites.
Deer flies and horse flies are similar in many ways, but their body build is different. Horse flies can be nearly an inch bigger than deer flies. This drastic size difference makes it easy to distinguish between the two.
In this guide, we give you an overview of both fly types and provide tips for protecting your livestock from them. Let’s get the buzz about these flies!
Visual Differences Between Deer Flies and Horse Flies
At a Glance
Deer Fly Overview
Deer flies (sometimes known as sheep flies in the U.S.) are bloodsucking insects that prey on humans, cattle, and other livestock. Their bites can be painful and they can spread various diseases. These insects can be found across the entire globe, with the exception of Greenland, Iceland, and Hawaii.
The deer fly is a large insect that comes in 250 varieties. A single deer fly will be bigger than a house fly but smaller than a horse fly. It has brightly colored compound eyes and large clear wings to match. These wings will come with dark bands.
A single deer fly can lay between 100 and 800 eggs per batch. Typically, the female deer fly will lay the batch on vegetation around water or damp areas. When the eggs enter the larval stage, they often feed on small creatures and rotting organic matter that can be found around the water. This larval stage can last between 1 and 3 years.
They then go through a pupal stage and become adults sometime between late spring and summer. As adults, the males will feed on pollen, while the females feed on blood, which is required to produce eggs.
Attraction to Blood
Since blood is required to produce eggs, it is only the females that feed on blood. Although they can eat a variety of blood types, they prefer mammal blood. They typically choose prey by smell, sight, or detected carbon dioxide.
Females may also determine their prey by body heat, dark colors, and movement. Light in the night can also attract deer flies because they typically hunt during the day. They are most often active during direct sunshine, when the temperature is around 71.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
Whenever it is time to feed, the female deer flies use mandibles and maxillae in a scissor-like motion. This creates an incision so they can suck up the blood. This process is painful! Also, to ensure that the fly can properly suck the blood, it has anticoagulants within its saliva, which can cause allergic reactions.
Unfortunately, diseases and parasites can be transmitted through a deer fly bite. These include anaplasmosis, anthrax, equine infectious anemia, filariasis, hog cholera, and tularemia.
Deer flies are an issue around the globe. With the exception of Iceland, Greenland, and Hawaii, they are located everywhere. Experts suspect that deer flies aren’t found in these locations because of their isolation from the main continents.
Where You’ll Find Them
If you live in an area with damp forest or wetland environments, you likely have deer flies in your area. This is especially true if the environment is rural. Expect their activity to be heightened between June and July.
Horse Fly Overview
The horse fly (sometimes called gadflies) is a rather frightening breed of fly that is incredibly large and preys on blood. These flies are most often seen during the day and tend to stay inactive during the night. Much like deer flies, they can be found all around the world, except for polar regions, Hawaii, Greenland, and Iceland.
Horse flies are rather noticeable. They can be as large as 1-¼ inch, making them more than twice the size of many deer flies. They also have compound eyes and wide bodies that will typically be patterned and brightly colored.
Horse fly mating happens in swarms. Whenever it’s time to lay eggs, the females will lay them on stones or vegetation around water. There can be clusters of up to 1,000 eggs in certain water regions. The eggs are white at first but darken in a few days. The eggs typically hatch 6 days after being laid.
The larvae will fall onto the moist ground or water below. There, they will consume different organic matter, like worms or other larvae. The older they get, the more they will move into drier land. The pupae period lasts for around 2 weeks, which is when the metamorphosis will be complete.
Males typically appear first, followed by the females. After both sexes have emerged, they will begin mating. Courtship starts in the air but finishes on the ground.
Attraction to Blood
Before the females can lay their eggs, they have to eat blood. The blood is required for the production of eggs. As a result, females have stronger mouths than the males so they can ingest blood from mammals and other animals. Typically, however, females only bite out of necessity.
How a female extracts blood is via specific mouthparts that are formed as a stabbing organ. This includes two cutting blades and a sponge-like section, enabling the fly to lap up the blood. As you might expect, horse fly bites are incredibly painful.
Female horse flies often transfer blood-borne diseases through their bites. This can include equine infectious anemia virus, trypanosomes, filarial worm loa loa, anthrax, and tularemia.
Horse flies can be found all around the globe, but they are not found in polar regions and certain islands, like Iceland, Greenland, or Hawaii.
Where You’ll Find Them
Like deer flies, you will most likely find these in damp forest or wetland environments. If you have a marsh, pond, or stream on your land, you might have horse flies.
How to Get Rid of Deer Flies and Horse Flies
Unfortunately, getting rid of deer and horse flies is nearly impossible, unless they are found in your home. Most often, these flies are found in natural environments, making it impossible to use insecticides as you would for other pests.
Also, most insecticides are designed for smaller insects. Due to how large deer and horse flies are, insecticides often do not kill them, meaning that you will waste your money on insecticides that don’t work. For these two reasons, insecticides pose no real threat to deer and horse flies.
That said, you can try adding trapping devices around any areas where you want to mitigate their exposure. For example, you might want to add traps inside your barn or shed, especially if you have livestock. However, these flies typically don’t go into shaded areas, making this an ineffective method.
How to Protect Your Animals
Since these flies can spread infectious diseases and parasites, it is important to protect your animals from them. There are permethrin-based sprays that you can use for livestock and horses. The point of this insecticide is to irritate the fly, forcing them to leave after landing.
If you do not spray the livestock completely, including the underbelly and legs, the flies will continue to swarm around the animal’s body. Additionally, you will need to repeat applications because the spray will wear off eventually.
Deer flies and horse flies are quite similar, but they are not identical. If you are unsure which fly is buzzing around, the easiest way to determine the species is to simply look at its body. Horse flies are notably bigger than deer flies. If the fly is alarmingly large, it is most likely a horse fly.
If you are still unsure, it may be a good idea to contact a pest control specialist. They will determine definitively which fly is on your land, and they may be able to give you tips for mitigating their exposure. Still, it is next to impossible to eradicate these pests.
Therefore, you will need to get supplies to protect your livestock and yourself from their bites. Since these flies can spread parasites and diseases, the last thing that you want is for your livestock to get sick after being bitten by one of these creatures.
Featured Image Credit: Top – Aristokrates, Shutterstock | Bottom – Achkin, Shutterstock