When stable flies are biting, they almost always bite on the legs and will be oriented with their heads facing upward. (Photo by David Taylor, USDA ARS)
When stable flies are biting, they almost always bite on the legs and will be oriented with their heads facing upward. (Photo by David Taylor, USDA ARS)

For just a moment, imagine you’re highly touted college football coach Butch Battalion.

After practice, athletic director Royce Riches marches into your office and exclaims excitedly, “Hey, Butch, our team got selected by ESPN to play a nationally televised game next week. That’s the good news.”

“You mean there’s bad news?”

“Well, Butch, ESPN got the greenlight to schedule a ‘mystery game’ to boost college football ratings. The opposition knows they’re playing us, but we’re so good we won’t find out who we’re playing until our plane hits the tarmac.”

The highly successful coach Battalion spends a sleepless night trying to develop a game plan for an unknown opponent.

That, said research entomologist David Taylor, is exactly what it’s like if you’re trying to combat flies in your beef or dairy cattle operation, swine feedlot or equine facility without first knowing if the culprit is the horn fly, stable fly, house fly, face fly, horse fly or some other fly.

“Correctly identifying flies is the first key step to a successful control program,” emphasized Taylor, who’s stationed in Lincoln, Neb., with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS). “When people contact me with a fly problem, my first question is: ‘Which fly are you dealing with?’ Usually they don’t know.”

Taylor said that’s to be expected when rural residents call to complain about fly issues stemming from a nearby livestock feedlot, dairy or horse facility.

But Taylor noted that the issue surrounding fly identification is also common among livestock producers and even some who distribute fly-control products.

“A few of my calls are from distributors who say they have customers telling them that a product isn’t working, that it’s failing them,” Taylor said. “Typically, the issue here is that there are different products and different methods for addressing each fly.”

For example, he said, “If you’re using a feed-through in a mineral block, that will address primarily horn flies and to a lesser extent face flies because their larvae develop in fresh cowpats. But it’s not going to touch stable flies and house flies because their larvae develop in old composting manure or other types of rotting materials.”

 

Horn flies primarily bite along an animal’s back, but when numbers are high or if it’s hot, they move to the undersides and legs. And when they’re on the legs, they will almost always bite with their heads facing downward. (Photo by David Taylor, USDA ARS)
Horn flies primarily bite along an animal’s back, but when numbers are high or if it’s hot, they move to the undersides and legs. And when they’re on the legs, they will almost always bite with their heads facing downward. (Photo by David Taylor, USDA ARS)

He added: “So if someone calls and says that the feed-through is failing and it turns out the problem is house flies or stable flies,then the feed-through isn’t failing you, you are just addressing the wrong fly.”

 

Taylor said that he was invited to give a presentation about this very issue last year. “Most of the people in the room were very surprised when I started talking about all the biological differences with these various types of flies and theimportance of being able to properly identify them. When you have that knowledge in hand, then you can develop an effective fly control program.”

Taylor said that “proper identification” is the first thing he stresses to anyone calling about fly issues, and that’s exactly why coach Butch Battalion is losing sleep: the opponent is a mystery so he can’t prepare a solid game plan.

The Fly Control Center website has an “Identify” link at the top of the main webpage to get you started in the right direction.

Taylor also encourages producers to discuss fly control with their veterinarians and neighbors and to educate themselves by reading; among the books he recommends is the 2009 edition of Veterinary Entomology: Livestock and Companion Animals.

“It’s written by some of the top people in the entomology field,” he said.