Beware the Blanford Fly: Not the beer but the bug

Never once did it occur to me that, the gentle rolling green Oxfordshire countryside, could hide such a malicious horror. The exact location of the appalling crime is a mystery, but somewhere, either in the field, or in the garden, I was repeatedly stung, by a small homicidal black fly, a.k.a., the Blanford Fly. The pleasure of actually catching sight of the little critter has yet eluded me, but the substantially swollen evidence left in its wake, is unmistakable.

The Blanford fly (Similium Posticatum) is a very small black fly, just 2-3mm long and tends to fly in close proximimity to the ground. Hence, explaining its stealth existence. Prevalence around the village of Blandford Forum in Dorset, resulted in its undeservedly smart name. To date, occurrence in the UK is only patchily distributed in the area running from East Anglia through Oxfordshire to Dorset. Though, there is evidence of further spreading, where bites have been reported as far as Bournemouth. Moreover, it seems that the cunning Blanford fly is no longer simply a countryside occurrence, as the flies are now also successfully reproducing in city areas. Their urban sprawl is reportedly due to the ever growing popularity of garden water features. Probably much to the credit of the Ground Force Decking Team and their queen of water features; Charlie Dimmock.

Just as it did to yours truly, the bite of the Blanford fly can cause severe reactions in people. The bites often occur on the legs and are very painful indeed. The symptoms will depend on one’s sensitivity to insect bites, but generally include swelling (oedema), blistering, high temperature (38C+) and joint pain. Since learning of its existence, I was compelled to find out more and consequently prevent future bites for both my family, as well as fellow gardeners. Until we actually identified the culprit, we always presumed that the horsefly was the guilty party and were therefore never looking out for this much smaller villain. Mind you, it pays to keep an eye out for the dreaded horseflies too…

The pond
The pond

We are now well into the so called ‘danger period’ of the Blanford fly. Almost exclusively in May and June, the flies are actively searching far and wide to relieve a poor punter of his/her precious blood.  The recent hot weather does seem to have made them active earlier though. The bite goes mostly undetected though often leaving a spot of blood and immediate sore, itchy sensation. If you react to the bite as I do, one will consequently spend the rest of the week nursing terrible itching and a painfully large debilitating swelling. The males are harmless. It is Mrs Blanford fly, the true culprit, who is at this time, on the war path, seeking a meal of blood to assist in the production of her eggs.  I will spare you the exact details of their reproductive cycle, but in short; (1) Eggs laid in June/July in the ground, normally along riverbanks (2) Eggs hatch the following February/March (3) New adult flies appear in May with nothing but sex and blood on the brain.

Don’t be put off gardening, or heading for a stroll in the lovely East Anglian, Dorset or Oxfordshire countryside, just take extra care in the coming two months. To reduce the chance of being bitten, one is probably best to wear trousers and keep ankles and feet covered. The recent hot spell encouraged yours truly to adorn her skimpy sandals, which proved irresistible, so wellies are probably the better choice. Blanford fly bites are more frequent in the middle of the day, as opposed to the early morning and evening activity of compatriot offenders; the mosquito, horsefly and midge. Avoid open areas in the garden, field, parkland, riverbanks in the middle of the day, particularly in hot weather. In addition, spray, spray and spray insect repellent all over. Steer clear of low garden furniture, and be on guard when working close to the ground. Always ensure one is covered up and exude nothing but copious wafts of eau de super repellent.

If unfortunately you have been bitten, clean the wound thoroughly and however irresistible, do not scratch. I am not of the medical profession, so one is best to seek proper medical advice. Though, having been bitten often and clearly very susceptible to insect bites, I know the routine. For personal treatment of my Blanford injury, a cure of anthistamine tablets, and application of both antihistamine cream as well as cream containing Crotamiton to stop the dreaded itching. Aspirin, paracetamol or neurofen for the pain. For the swelling, continued localised cold showers and/or cold compresses. And as per always, if symptoms persist a visit to the GP is advised.

For most the Blanford fly is a nothing but a pest, though with just a hint of ginger, the tables can turn. Some bright spark brought out an ale, named after the enfant terrible. According to the makers of Blandford Fly; Hall & Woodhouse, one of the active ingredients of ginger called zingibain could help reduce the fever and swelling inflicted by a Blanford fly. I have never tried this beer with its miracle Blanford fly bite curing properties, but there may be some truth in their marketing spiel. Zingibain is a proteolytic enzyme and anti-inflamatory, commonly used to relieve arthritis pain. Though to relieve the symptoms of a Blanford fly bite, I suppose one would need to down quite a few to obtain the right dosage. A prospect surely of much appeal to many, and especially to Hall & Woodhouse…..

It's starting to look like a kitchen garden Full Steam Ahead for Greenhouse Borders

any comments?

Comments: 20

  1. In South Northamptonshire/North oxfordshire area too!
    been bitten every year for the last 3 years , each time requiring antibiotics. Can only cut grass during May/June in full length trousers and long sleeve top!

  2. Hi i’ve been bitten 4 times this year ( 2014) by this bloody fly 4 different location in and around Birmingham UK most recent was yesterday. seems very late in the year but i saw the criter sucking wish i new how to stop the swelling always seems to last a week and its so itchy grr. I know its the same fly due to the red mark heres a link to an image of it sucking my blood

  3. Have recently laid new turf and I am also near a storm brook that has water in. The turf has hundreds of these insects in it and they attack me but not my wife or children. As there are so many I have caught one and photographed it. Is there any way to eradicate?

    • I am in Standon Herts by the way

  4. I got bitten on the 19/07 near Osterley Park West London. Its been more than a week the lump is still there and i am still fighting the temptation of scratching it. Wonder how long will it last

    • I hope not too long. I was bitten Friday and the pain around the bite is becoming unbearable.still not able to walk properly on it. I’m wondering if the hot weather has made it possible for it to happen in July. I live in ringwood, hampshire so near lots of water. Hope you get better soon

  5. Hi I was bitten a few days ago. The wound has grown and extremely sore. Foot and leg has swollen quite a lot and my leg up into my groin is very tender. Saw the doc this morning and given antibiotics, one a day for six days. How long does this pain go on for as I’m in a lot of pain. The wound is very wet so have covered it and I’ve bathed my ankle in very salty water. Any advice??

    • Terribly sorry to hear of your predicament. Sounds like your reaction to the bite is far worse than mine. Are you sure it was a Blanford fly? It’s quite late in their cycle, as they’re normally active May/June time. Cold water compresses/showers helped me whilst waiting for the swelling to go down. As your reaction is more serious I’d stick to your doctor’s advice. Hope the swelling and pain subsides soon, I wish you well in your recovery.

      • Thank you x

  6. I’ve been bitten again this year in coulsdon surrey, I now have a huge red painful ankle and it itches like mad, it took weeks last year to clear up I cant believe ive fallen victim again, ‘note to self’ must wear long trousers in the garden this time of year, unfortunately I havent really found anything to elevate the symptoms very much at all, take care folks it dangerous out there!!!!

  7. I have had 2 nasty bite reactions, huge sore, itchy hot red bump about 3 inches across. I blamed them on horseflies but I’m now wondering if it was this little critter. The one on my ankle made walking really painful.

  8. I got bitten in the early morning in Green Park in London… Not 500yds from Buckingham Palace! Sat on a bench to enjoy the sunshine, saw the critter on my ankle, thought nothing of it. 2 days later it’s itchy, swollen and painful – I’m even having trouble walking on it! Piriton, topically applied colloidal silver, and lots of moaning…

  9. In Wales – get bitten at least once a year when gardening at my allotment near a river – I always see the evil thing just as it has bitten me – nearly always gets infected. Generally I cover up from head to toe to avoid it but forget on my first major annual outing to prepare the soil – it will find the neck or wrist whatever I do. Grrrr!

  10. RT @Petra_HM: Despite precautions, definitely been bitten by Blanford fly again. Only this time, I actually saw the critter doing it.

  11. RT @Petra_HM: Despite precautions, definitely been bitten by Blanford fly again. Only this time, I actually saw the critter doing it.

  12. Despite precautions, definitely been bitten by Blanford fly again. Only this time, I actually saw the critter doing it.

  13. Got bitten by one of these blighters last week. I had swelling, an infection, a lot of pain and an ugly sore. I blamed a horsefly at first but then thought i would have felt that bite me. Then I read about this little horror and it seems the more likely culprit.

  14. @FernleyFishes Ah, prob dreaded Blanford Fly. Smallest little critter, worst bite ever. Wrote about that last year

  15. Midges about. Soon it’ll be the dreaded Blanford Fly again…

  16. And I thought horseflies were bad… Glad I live north of the current hunting ground, I react really badly to insect bites, this does not sound fun…