Flies: Florida Panhandle’s Unwelcome Beach Guests

by BeachHunter on October 5, 2008

A beautiful October morning on Grayton Beach, Florida.

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.

Bug Band insect repellent

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”:

Skeeter Patrol Says “Shoo Fly Shoo”

Ugh…Dog Flies Are Here

If you have any info or personal stories about these irksome critters, send an email to beachhunter [at] beachhunter.net

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 gerald October 6, 2008 at 12:34 pm

Hi David, Nice beaches up here huh.

2 beachhunter October 6, 2008 at 4:20 pm

Yes Gerald, the panhandle beaches are the whitest and cleanest anywhere, and the water is so clear and beautiful it’s hard to believe.

3 Jackee September 13, 2010 at 2:17 pm

We moved to Pensacola this summer and today, Sept 13 is the first day I have seen these flies. They are awful. Thanks so much for posting this because now I know that they will only be here temporarily.

4 Garland September 9, 2012 at 10:52 pm

We were attacked by biting flies at PCB today. We’ve been here almost a week, and this is the first day we’ve seen them. Hopefully they don’t hang around long. Thanks for the info.

5 Pam October 29, 2012 at 10:57 pm

We were in Mexico Beach, FL for the past five days and the biting flies were unbearable! Much better by the pool! Off with Deet did not repel them at all! We heard about cactus juice but it was on our last day so we didn’t bother. Fall is our favorite time at the beach but the flies made us miserable! Hoping they will be gone in a couple of weeks when we go back!

6 NATALEE October 10, 2013 at 5:05 pm

I have lived in the Florida Keys (Key Largo), St. Petersburg, FL & Central Florida Area since 1978 and have never seen or heard of the biting flies in my life. Horse fly once in a while by a pool in Key Largo. Gnats, yes know what they are and feel like but biting flies. Vacation Cape San Blas, Panhandle, FL was wonderful sugary white sand beach with our furry four-legged daughter 9/13-9/20/2013 and then it happened on September 19th, 2013, when trying to spend the day at the beach the encounter of the biting flies! What the heck! Never in my life has something so horrible attacked below the knees all over non-stop! The love the royal blue color they were all over everything the beach canopy, cooler, beach cart, beach bag, chairs. Only safe place the water. This was crazy and then others were saying they were really bad the day before…are you kidding me! I had to go back to the condo this was crazy me jumping around all nuts on the beach. Onto the computer I went to ‘google’ what the heck is happening here on this beach but what I learned at the time was what I thought was ‘deer’ flies. I did read the mention of ‘cactus’ juice but we are in no position to find that right now out here with nothing around. Then I read ‘deet’ would not help. I read Avon’s Skin So Soft would work – humm wish I had that the cure all for everything including mosquitoes. Then I read that fabric softner and/or Vick’s vapor rub will stop them from coming near and biting. Well this I have and can try so I am the nut who rubs fabric softner all over my husband, furry daughter and myself and then vapor rub all over my legs and my husbands (oh yes well smell good now). Then I take fabric softner sheets, cut them in strips and smear them with vapor rub. Tie a couple strips to furry daughters collar (oh she is fashionable now) and then we head back to the beach to make this day work. I start to tie the fabric strips to the chairs and bag and the flies just laugh! I hear them as the cover my legs and ankles. They sit upon the fabric strips and again we head for the water to take cover. Back to the condo to wash off all this fabric softner and vapor rub. Inside and wait until late afternoon / early evening because again on ‘google’ it said usually the flies give up around 4pm or later. So again will all our stuff still out on the private beach we head back out around 5pm to try and enjoy our final day and couple hours. Within minutes the flies just attack and once again laugh with the upper hand! Pack it up! What an awful day at the beach and experience I never want to have ever again! I wish we would have known ahead of time. I wish we knew how to ward them off and enjoy our day at the beach.

7 Ann August 20, 2014 at 6:26 pm

I have the perfect cure for the “dog fly” problem. We used it several years ago at the beach and IT WORKED!!!
First get a raft (2 man for us), 2 paddles, a cooler, two fly swatters and whatever. Then take the raft and RUN to the water. Get in and start paddling furiously. When you are a ways out any new flys won’t come. Then you systematically kill the flies that came with you.
It would help if you had a little anchor. We didn’t.

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