It's Al's Turn: A bicycle ride with bite

The following is an opinion column written by an Echo Press editorial staff member. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Echo Press.

Horsefly / Horsefly
Imagine encountering dozens of these critters while you're out for a bicycle ride.
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A long, long time ago, when I was a kid, I hated horse flies.

Unlike ordinary house flies, these pests bit – hard.

They really seemed to like landing on my bare ankles when I was out fishing in a boat. Too many times, they were biting more than the fish were.

But over the years, I didn’t see a lot of horse flies. Although I spend a lot of time outdoors, either running or bicycling, I don’t remember being all that bothered by them.

That came to an abrupt end earlier this summer.


My wife, Celeste and I were riding bikes on the Central Lakes Trail, wrapping up a –-mile bicycle trip to Burr Vineyards west of Garfield when a few flies darted at my face. I waved them away, thinking they were just ordinary but still annoying houseflies.

Until the biting started.

In just a few seconds, the “few” flies that were bothering me turned into a whole horde. They were biting on my back, right through the shirt I was wearing. They also feasted on my bare calves and ankles. My neck was also a popular target.

I turned to see what Celeste was doing and she was waving her arms back and forth, trying to ward off the swarm as well.

Without wasting any time, we both shifted our bikes into high gear and pedaled as fast as we could, getting the heck out there. The flies didn’t give up without a fight, however. They found some reinforcements along the way and we were trying to swat them with one hand while steering our bikes with the other.

Finally, after about a half mile of furious pedaling, the flies gave up, disappearing as quickly as their attack first started. But they left something behind – red welts. My back and shoulders were covered with them.

The sudden attack got me wondering about horseflies and if it was common for them to swarm like that. So I Googled it. Turns out, horse flies don’t bother people for most of the year, according to , but during breeding season they turn into “vampiric creatures in search of blood.” The site said female horse flies need blood so they can lay their eggs. Horse flies often attack in groups and are more attracted to some situations than others.

Our situation was ideal for them. It was a hot day. It rained earlier and horse flies thrive in warm, moist areas. Stagnant water was nearby on the trail. We were also the perfect targets. Horse flies are most attracted to moving objects and carbon dioxide, and Celeste and I were sweating and breathing heavily on our ride.


As I researched horse flies, I came across information that was surprising, a little gross but kind of fascinating at the same time:

According to , there are about 3,000 species of horse flies around the world. What Celeste and I encountered was not unusual. The website noted, “Ancient Greek literature (Aeschylus) mentions people being driven insane by aggressive horse flies.”

Horse flies are often confused with deer flies but there are some differences. Deer flies are somewhat smaller and have distinguishing dark bands across their wings. I’m not exactly sure which flies descended on us. All I know is that it hurt.

According to , the fly’s mandible is what makes these bites so painful. The mandible is essentially the insect’s jaw. It’s shaped like scissors and can cut right into the skin. The mandible is also equipped with small hooks to help the horsefly lock in to feed better. Once the horsefly is locked in, it eats the blood from the skin. Yuck!

This bite can cause a sharp, burning sensation, itchiness, inflammation and swelling around the bite area.

I was kind of right to suspect the horse flies were out to get us. states that female horse flies in particular are very persistent. They’ve been known to chase their victims for a short time if their first bite does not get them the satisfying meal they were hoping for.

Some “food for thought” the next time you encounter a horde of hungry horse flies.

“It’s Our Turn” is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.

Al Edenloff is the editor of the twice-weekly Echo Press. He started his journalism career when he was in 10th grade, writing football and basketball stories for the Parkers Prairie Independent.
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