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Black Fly Battle Tactics

Tips and Tricks to Keep the Bugs Away This Spring

I was noticing on my hike this morning that the trilliums are starting to pop up from the forest floor. They are one of my favourite flowers (and Ontario’s provincial emblem, too), but as much as I always look forward to seeing them every spring, and have caught myself singing, “Ontari-ari-ohhhh” at the sight of them on more than one occasion, they also remind me of one of my least favourite parts of this time of year: Black flies. In Muskoka it’s pretty common knowledge that once the trilliums start to bloom, the black flies will soon be out in full force.

Black Fly Battle Tactics - Pure Muskoka Blog

They usually don’t last too long (May and June), but black flies sure do make their presence known! They get into your eyes, your nose, your mouth.....the inside of your clothing and stuck in your hair - where they continue to bite and bite and bite!

Vintage Hues Collection - Pure Muskoka
Vintage Hues Collection - Pure Muskoka

My family moved to Bala when I was 7 an I have memories of the carnage that first spring. Having come from southern Ontario, where they generally aren’t a problem, we weren’t particularly informed or prepared to deal with these nasty insects. I remember after days of playing outside with friends as a newbie Muskokan, coming inside to see my eyes swollen shut, neck resembling raw hamburger...And the incessant ITCH!! It was miserable. To this day, the imagined sound of my Mother’s voice still echoes in my mind every time I end up with a scab on my head from a black fly bite. “STOP PICKING!”

But I think we can all agree that it’s a small price to pay for living in Cottage Country, right?

Muskoka Trilliums -  Pure Muskoka

Over the years, I've picked up a few tricks to deal with these pesky bugs. While I haven't discovered a magic bullet, I'm happy to share what I've learned from my 40 years of experience battling these pests (along with mosquitoes):

Physical barriers:

Your first line of defence against bugs is physical barriers. Install screens on windows, doors, tents, and RVs, and use fine mesh to cover cribs, playpens, and strollers. Muskoka rooms and gazebos can also provide protection if available. When outdoors, opt for long sleeves and pants in light coloured fabrics, as bugs are attracted to darker colours. Fortunately, black flies can't bite through clothing like mosquitoes can, so even the lightest weight fabrics can offer great protection. Just be sure not to let them get trapped inside your clothes!

Scents and smells:

When it comes to repelling or attracting black flies, scents play a crucial role. These bugs are drawn to sweat and CO2, so if you are exercising outdoors, you may inadvertently end up with an entourage! It's best to keep your body clean, but avoid flowery or fruity fragrances. Scented soaps, lotions, perfumes, and deodorants are a definite no-no. As for bug repellents, DEET (Diethyl-meta-toluamide) is a tried-and-tested option that's both safe and effective when used correctly. Alternatively, you can create your own repellents using essential oils like lemongrass, lavender, geranium, clove, mint, rosemary, and citronella. These are quite effective and smell so nice! Vodka and apple cider vinegar are also effective options. Simply spray them directly on your skin or soak fabric pieces to hang somewhere nearby.

Bugs tend to hate the smell of smoke, so sitting around a campfire can offer you some protection against getting bit. You can also try burning a citronella candle or a mosquito coil in your area, while they may not be a guarantee, they can certainly help to some degree.


While the impact of diet is still up for debate, there is some evidence (scientific and experiential) that the foods you eat can either attract or repel black flies and mosquitos.

Beans, Lentils and Tomatoes are all examples of foods that are rich in thiamine (vitamin B1). This vitamin has been thought of as a natural mosquito repellent because once it’s excreted by the skin, it helps to mask the natural human odours that are attractive to insects.

Onions and garlic are sulphur containing foods that some people swear by. they may work to repel bugs, by changing the smell of your skin in an unappetizing way. Not to mention your breath, too!

Apple cider vinegar is also said to change the way you smell in a way that's unappetizing to bugs. Some people use it on their skin as well, as a natural bug repellant.

Chilli peppers, containing capsaicin, are known to repel black flies due to the smell released after eating. The hotter, the better!

Lastly on the food front, let it be known that if you eat a lot of sweet and sugary foods, your blood will be sweet, as well. Black flies are attracted to sweet things....Did you know they are actually pollinators. Besides blood, they actually feed on wildflower nectar! SO you might want to think about a low sugar diet during black fly season. Bananas and beer, in particular, have a bad rap for attracting the flies.

So, as you gear up for another spring in Cottage Country, armed with these tips and tricks, remember that staying bite-free is possible. Well almost, anyway! Don't let yourself be bugged. With a little preparation and know-how, you can make the most of this awesome season. After all, when life gives you black flies, just remember: it's all part of the Muskoka charm!

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