Black flies find hikers delicious

June 09, 1999

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. - As a person with a strong record in support of the environment, perhaps I will have some credibility when I tell you that, on reflection, the environment is significantly overrated.

This revelation occurred on an unstable slide on the west face of an Adirondack peak known as Mount McComb, as blood trickled down my face, arms and legs.

A fall? I wish. A fall may be painful and inconvenient, but at least a fall is accidental, explainable and unemotional.

No, my wounds were from a brutal, calculated attack by the most lawless and sadistic insect on the planet, a species known by the deceptively innocuous title of "black fly."


The black fly is mindful of a fruit fly that has fallen out of comfort with its vegetarianism and instead has developed a rabid blood lust matched only by a politicians' thirst for tobacco-lobby cash.

Whoever wrote the 1943 edition of The New Columbia Encyclopedia (The Herald-Mail believes an encyclopedia, like a complex Bordeaux, improves with time) must have had some first-hand experience with the critters because he loses his normal, dispassionate encyclopedia voice when he says the black fly has "large eyes, short legs, a stout humped back (no smart guy, this is not the entry for 'Rosie O'Donnell'), broad, gauzy wings and piercing-sucking mouthparts.

"The female insect inflicts a painful bite, sucking the blood out of birds and mammals, including humans. Large mammals may be bitten to death by swarms of black flies; the black fly problem in some subarctic regions is so severe as to make human settlement impossible."

And that's just the female black fly. Imagine if the male black flies would ever put down their beers and their remotes and become motivated to get up off their sofas in their little black fly trailer parks long enough to join their wives during these hideous blood shopping trips. The flies would easily collect more pints than the American Red Cross.

I always made a point of climbing around Memorial Day because these winged desperados never hatched before mid-June. Now the talk-radio hosts who never leave their studios and get their information from studies paid for by the chemical industries assure us there is no such thing as global warming.

This proves, conclusively, that not enough black flies listen to talk radio. Because over the past few years, it's warmed up enough for them to begin their blood feed about two weeks earlier in the spring than they used to.

The talk-radio hosts are obviously right about one other thing, too: We never should have gotten rid of DDT.

There was a substance that knew what to do with a black fly: Rip its lungs out of its throat in the most painful way possible. This brings me back to my initial point - there are some species on this planet that mere endangering is too good for, and these groups include black flies and Rosie O'Donnell.

DDT causes cancer? Perhaps, but I think you need to weigh the alternatives. That, after all, is why we drink sugar-free soft drinks. We reason, what's a little bladder cancer if you have good teeth?

And when you're on an 800-foot slide and swatting would result in unspeakable, balance-losing consequences. I think you can begin to see my point.

Particularly when blood starts running from open bites and you realize these beasts have a native intelligence that allows them to know precisely when your hands are otherwise occupied and they are free to land and nosh at will. When you are able to slap at them, they only take it as applause. Netting only encourages their sense of sport. Bug spray to them is A1 sauce.

I still consider myself a supporter of the environment, but with one disclaimer. I now support an environment free and clear of any creature whose encyclopedic entry has any reference whatsoever to piercing-sucking mouthparts.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist

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