What’s the point of horse flies?

There’s a series on BBC Radio 4 that somehow I’ve never caught up with on i-player.  It’s called ‘What’s the point of….? and examines a whole range of British institutions, from the Tate Gallery at the more serious end of the spectrum, to lawns and pubs at the other.  Though some right-thinking Englishmen might argue that nothing could be more important than a well-kept lawn and a drink in your local after you’ve finished mowing same.

I have a suggestion for a programme, though the subject that interests me isn’t a British institution. But I really need to know.

What’s the point of horse flies?

Thanks to Dennis Ray and Wikimedia Commons for this graphic image of a happy horsefly
Thanks to Dennis Ray and Wikimedia Commons for this graphic image of a happy horsefly

Out walking at this time of year, some – but not all of us – have come to dread being near horses, cattle or still water.  Because when we’re near any of them, we’re likely suddenly to feel a sharp piercing of our skin, as a horse fly eagerly pumps poison into our flesh whilst sucking our blood.  It’s not easily brushed away.  In the hours that follow, our skin swells, and for several nights, sleep will elude us as we scratch frantically at our fiery, itchy, tightly inflamed skin.  These nasty creatures are pretty immune to any repellents, though a cocktail of essential oils such as lavender, melissa and tea-tree sometimes helps.  Nor have I found any remedy soothing after the event.

So what are they for?  It’s bad enough for us humans, but cattle and horses seem truly to suffer all summer long, as flies of all kinds cluster round their eyes and mouths, resisting all attempts to flick them away.

Here be horseflies....
Here be horseflies….


.... and here be horse flies
…. and here be horse flies

Apparently they make a tasty snack for a swallow or a frog.  I’m sorry, that’s no good.  There are plenty of other insects about, so their having a place in the food chain simply isn’t justification enough.

And while we’re about it, what’s the point of ticks?  And mosquitos?  And another thing.  Why do I get so many bites from all of the above while Malcolm, and so many of my other friends, are blissfully immune?

Author: margaret21

I'm retired and living in North Yorkshire, where I walk as often as I can, write, volunteer, and travel as often as I can.

20 thoughts on “What’s the point of horse flies?”

  1. I’m one of the lucky ones that never get bitten. I put it down to copious amounts of marmite and beer which are supposed to render you immune. Works for me.


    1. Hmm. I like Marmite, but there’s only so much a girl can ingest. Beer? Hate it. I always complain it tastes of soap. I’ve just read something on the internet that involves marinading cloves in alcohol the applying it to your body. Is this a cure that’s worse than the disease?


  2. Couldn’t agree more. If there are horses around the flies lurk in the Astrantia major in my garden with predictable and painful results. Have you tried hydrocortisone cream? Pretty drastic but i had to get some from the doctor a couple of weeks ago for an extremely unpleasant bee sting and it was useful(ish). When I know I’m going to be exposed to mosies I coat myself with citronella spray, sticky and smelly but it works, at least against them.


    1. Sorry, Kathryn, citronella doesn’t work for horse flies, though I know it’s good against other nasties. I had 7 horse fly bites the other day so I rather wish I’d had some hydrocortisone then.


  3. When I was a kid, we had to deal with those nasties whenever we were at the lake in the summer. It was always a good day when one of us was brave enough and quick enough to stand still, let one land on her head, then quickly sink down into the water to drown the fly.

    There is no point to them. Or roaches. Or stink bugs.

    And I too am always the one who gets eaten alive by mosquitoes while everyone else gets off scott-free. If drinking beer will keep them away, I’d be happy to oblige, but I’ll pass on the Marmite. So sorry but the stuff is awful. We on this side of the pond just don’t understand how y’all can eat the stuff. 🙂


    1. Like the water-torture treatment! Marmite? It’s OK, no non-Brit likes the stuff. And only about 50% of Brits come to that. I love it. It’s in the genes. It’s a by-product of the brewing industry, so you ought to like it, and I should hate it.


    1. Dairylea? Oh, puh-lease! And while I agree Jamie knows his stuff, I don’t like Marmite in cooking. I find it just too assertive. Oh, and I don’t much like tea either. There, that’s my negativity done for the day.


  4. ahhhhhhh Margaret, your blood must be simply tooooooooooo good to taste……and why always looking for a reason to exist ? thinking of quite a lot of human beings…..what are THEY useful for ???? have a beautiful day, without an enemy of any kind – love, AnnA


  5. Andrew recently got bitten on the wrist by a horse fly, and his arm was swollen up to his elbow for days. When we were sailing in the Chesapeake we were plagued by ‘no see ums’ which were more irritating than ‘bitey’ to me. When I’m wearing my pompous hat I say that as a vegetarian I’m not as tasty!


  6. May I join your club of tasty food for horse flies & other charming creatures, while my husband may join Malcolm’s …
    Life can be so unfair, can it not just ? …
    (From a fan of your blog and of Jamie O’s recipes … )


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