We stepped out onto Grayton Beach on a beautiful October morning. The sand was as white as fresh snow, and felt like coarse sugar under our feet. The water, as you can see from the photo above, was crystal clear and a comfortable 78 degrees Fahrenheit.
But we quickly realized that something was very wrong. Despite a fairly consistent north breeze, we were being swarmed by biting flies. Ouch!
Now, I’ve lived in Florida my whole life and have, from time to time, encountered an occasional biting fly on the beach. I’ve been driven from the beach by no-see-ums (aka sand gnats), but they are only active at dawn and dusk now and then.
These flies on Grayton Beach drew blood and they didn’t give up. We headed straight for the water, which provided considerable relief, as very few of the flies ventured out over the water. Everyone was swatting flies and heading for cover.
When we tried to sit in a beach chair under our umbrella to relax, the flies swarmed us again. We had to leave. I was dumbfounded. Why had I not heard of this? After all, I am the “Beach Expert.”
I questioned a few people who told me that the flies are brought down on the north wind with the first cold front, and that they are only a problem for a few days each year. Lucky us, I thought.
Fortunately by later in the day the wind turned southerly and greatly alleviated the fly problem.
I’ve done some research and have managed to find a couple of resources on the internet that shed some light on the fly problem, but I still have more questions, so I’m continuing my research. I’ll give you an executive summary and provide links to the articles I found.
“Dog Fly” Facts
Fly season in the Florida panhandle is generally from August through October.
The flies are “stable flies” or “dog flies.” They lay their eggs in the farm country of Alabama on manure or rotting vegetation such as might be found in a farm environment. Apparently, winds bring them south to the panhandle beaches.
The flies are blood suckers, and prefer the blood of cows and pigs, but clearly do not turn away from humans when available.
The panhandle, from Gulf County to Escambia County, has had a spray program in place since the 1970’s, funded by state dollars. The state funding was cut off in 2008. In Panama City Beach, the Mosquito Control program is trying to take up the slack.
Of course the spray program has its own controversy. Not everyone is happy with insecticides being sprayed on the beaches, even if it helps ward off the tourist-chasing flies.
We talked to several locals about how they deal with the flies. One helpful gentleman said that he uses something he called “Cactus spray,” which is apparently a natural insect repellant product. We never did find any of that in the local stores, but we did find a repellent called “Bug Band” with time-released “geraniol” as an active ingredient. It does not contain DEET. Photo below.
We cannot vouch for its effectiveness personally with regard to the flies, since after the first day, we were not bothered by the flies. But it does work with mosquitoes. We encountered some mosquitoes at Eden Garden State Park late in the afternoon. Sue had used the Bug Band and I had not. The mosquitoes had a feast on me but left her alone.
Florida panhandle beaches are absolutely gorgeous, so the purpose of this blog post is NOT to scare people away. But bring your insect repellent along with your sunscreen, just in case…
For further reading on Florida panhandle “dog flies”:
If you have any info or personal stories about these irksome critters, send an email to beachhunter [at] beachhunter.net