Horseflies are a pain in the nature reserve

Horsefly by Bob Coyle

I realised I had made a mistake when the first horsefly landed on my elbow and took a bite seconds after I had walked onto Little Woolden Moss.

I had been wearing shorts for weeks and so I hardly thought anything of it as I got out of the car, and my short-sleeved polo shirt was no better protection.

To be honest it’s a mistake I don’t often make, going out unprepared to lowland mosses or upland moors in summer. Tics and horseflies are a menace to walkers, Wildlife Trust officers and volunteers.

Long-sleeves, long pants and plenty of insect repellent is the best way to deal with this. A fireman gave me fair warning in July, he was part of the team fighting the moorland blaze on Winter Hill. As well as wearing safety clothing and carrying heavy packs of water in the heat, they also had to deal with small pests too. Great credit to those firefighters.

There are 30 species of horsefly, one of the most common being the notch-horned clegfly which is a smaller version.

These “cleggies” can give you a painful bite as you are walking through grasslands or woods, although they actually prefer to feed on the blood of cows and horses.

The females have sharp, biting mouthparts and usually feed on the blood of large mammals. Females wait in shady areas for their prey to pass by, locating it by sight with their large, compound eyes. Then they pounce, flying silently in for the bite.

A bog bush cricket at Little Woolden Moss

Bog bush cricket at Little Woolden Moss. Photo Credit: Andy Hankinson

At first you just feel a sensation on the arm, then they sink their biting bits into you and you really know they are there. I was bitten seven times (I counted) on our moss in Cadishead, but I am lucky because I don’t react to their attention.

A friend of mine was bitten on the face and all around his mouth became badly swollen for a week. Obviously some people can react in worse ways.

Male horseflies aren’t vicious because they lack the mouthparts – they actually feed on nectar.

Females lay eggs on stones and plants, or in mud, close to water. Their larvae hatch, and learn quickly, after falling into the damp earth, when they start to eat other invertebrates. 

The notch-horned cleg-fly is dark grey in colour, with grey-brown mottled wings and intricately striped, iridescent eyes. You soon get to know them after your first encounter.

So a lovely trip to Little Woolden Moss on a Sunday was pretty much ruined as I fought off the attention of female horseflies.

I was once told by my female colleagues that the animal they thought of when I was around was the horsefly. However as a male I certainly wouldn’t be the pain in the neck, elbow, leg…..or whatever else you can think of.

Seriously, to avoid these confrontations just make sure you are wearing plenty of clothing and take some insect repellent to be on the safe side.