Tuesday, September 8, 2009


On a recent foray into the deep woods of Zaleski State Forest, jumbo horseflies of the genus Tabanus were the most conspicuous of the insect crowd. That's because they're huge, and roar around you in circles all the while making tremendous, intimidating buzzes. These things are like insectian F-4 Phantoms, latching onto mammalian targets and relentlessly dogging their prey until they've extracted their pound of flesh.

But horseflies are interesting. And beautiful, in their own way. In my ceaseless quest to bring you cool info about astonishing beasts, I didn't immediately swat these savages away. Yep, I took one - quite a few, actually - for the team in order to get some shots. That'd be my leg, above. Denim is no barrier for the rasping swordlike mandibles of these purveyors of pain. I still have welts. But to truly learn, one must experience. Go out and get yourself bit by a gigantic Tabanus horsefly. You'll come to understand them better.

This is a female. They, not the males, are the biters, as blood is an essential ingredient to successful reproduction. I'm not saying that ALL females are thirsty bloodsuckers, but these are. I don't know the exact species of this fly, but it was quite striking with a good look; the huge spacesuit goggle-like eyes are wonders of nature, and the bright orange antennae created a striking contrast to the somber brown hues of the body.

Horsefly in action, courtesy the Nature's Mighty Pictures blog. The mandibles that do the dirty work are essentially tiny serrated swords. The typical horsefly modus operandi is to fly around the victim in circles, quite loudly and rapidly. It's easy to lose track of them, and when the buzzing stops expect trouble. They'll usually land on your back, out of sight but soon not out of mind.

Once the fly has settled on your meaty blood-filled substrate, it goes to work. Jabbing those formidable "teeth" into your hide, it rips, slices, and dices. This is not done with clean scalpel-like precision. Rather, our tormentor blasts its way into your flesh with harsh jagging rips, causing the blood to flow, which then the Dipteran Dracula eagerly laps up. This is basically an insect roadside bomb strategy. No stealth here. Just roar in, blast out a chunk of the victim, suck out as much blood as possible and get out before being swatted into oblivion.

There. I hope you have a great appreciation of the horsefly.


Dave said...

I've given up on many photo ops due to those blood sucking beasts!..the flies that is...

This post was better than the ahhh...stinkhorn...yeah, stinkhorn.

Heather said...

Thanks for taking one for the team, Jim, but I'm afraid I do NOT have a better appreciation for horseflies. So far I've managed to escape their flesh-ripping sword-mandibles, but by golly, they drive me CRAZY! I swear they chase you, and for long distances! I was trying to photograph a meadow flower one morning when one honed in on me, and followed me at least a half mile down the road (the whole time I was wildly swatting away)! This is the only thing that will make me suit up in DEET - Deep Woods OFF does keep them at bay, thank goodness. Take care of those welts!

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