Matthew Oates, the National Trust’s Nature and Wildlife Expert, explains how the hot, wet summer is affecting our biting flies:
Anyone who has been loitering in woods or by the waterside these last few weeks will have been eaten alive by biting flies. The Common Cleg (with just one g) Haematopota pluvialis, the smallest and commonest of our 30 or so native horse flies, has been unusually numerous this summer. Ask any horse owner, or horse. The females of these sleek grey beasts have a penchant for human blood. One scratch and the bite swells up. Do not scratch it!
Also abundant this summer is the Common Brown Horsefly Tabanus bromius. Park with open windows in a shady woodland car park on a hot day and your car will quickly fill up with them. Mercifully, they are more interested in horse or deer than man flesh. The biting fly equivalent of the Dalek is the Common Deer Fly Chrysops caecutiens, a piebald, triangular-shaped assassin with psychedelic eyes. It attacks the softest skin, usually eye lids – but flies round your head for several minutes before attempting to land, so you have to be seriously otherwise engaged to get bitten. But yes, it’s also quite numerous this summer.
These beasts all breed in damp soil, or mud, in shady places. They abound during warm, wet summers – and this is a hot, wet summer. They’re having a fantastic time! Water tables have remained high, following the wet winter (so there’s little prospect of trees or shrubs suffering from drought this year). Also, most districts have been regularly topped up by periods of rain.
The puddles haven’t dried up. This means that the mosquitoes are also doing nicely, and may yet appear in greater numbers. They breed in warm, shallow water. Most people get bitten by ‘mossies’ in bed, on warm summer nights when bedroom windows are open.
Thunderbugs (or thrips) and flying ants have also put in appearances. The former are plant feeders, but they make us itch like mad and somehow inveigle their way into computer screens and behind picture glass. Like flying ants, they’re creatures of hot harvest time weather. Worker wasps are just starting to appear, and may become numerous if the hot weather continues.
But all these creatures are symptomatic of a hot summer, and we are having
a hot summer. Don’t let them detract from your enjoyment of the sunshine – but remember your insect repellent and bite creams, and above all Never Scratch A Bite: it makes it far worse.