Black Flies Force Woodward Residents Inside, Take the Lives of 17 Chickens

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WOODWARD, Iowa  --  The City of Woodward is having trouble with an insect that is even more bothersome than mosquitoes. They’re called black flies, and they’re about the size of a gnat.

“Whenever we go outside to enjoy the weather, I have a three-year-old and it makes me concerned because walking in the grass, bugs are so thick they just kind of fly up and swarm you," said Woodward resident Marisa Nicolaisen. "And I’ve had bites, my son’s had bites, my husband’s had bites, and it makes me kind of paranoid to let my son play outside."

According to an Insect Expert at Iowa State University, black flies swarm around the head and face of animals and humans because they’re attracted to the carbon dioxide found in breath.

“They’re in the grass, and when you walk they just kind of fly up, and then sometimes they’re hovering and you walk right about head level and you walk into the bugs,” Nicolaisen said.

The Mayor of Woodward said they consulted an insect specialist, and unfortunately they can’t do anything to get rid of the black flies.

“We asked about treatments and spraying. Because we spray for mosquitos regularly and try and keep down bugs within the community, and none of that stuff that we are spraying for that will really help with the effect of the bugs. They’re not going to go anywhere,” Mayor Brian Devick said.

The good news is even though they're annoying and may bite, black flies won’t severely harm humans. The bad news, though, is they are harmful to some animals.

A family near Woodward owned 21 chickens and lost 17 in about two hours due to the black flies. The owner said she has to wear a mosquito net to do yard work.

Chicken owner Debbie Schutt took a few of her deceased chickens to Iowa State to be examined.

“They had found, they called them black flies or buffalo gnats, had been ingested into their nostrils, and they also found traces of these black flies in their trachea. Cause of death they also had hemorrhaging around their necks where the gnats had bitten them,” Schutt said.

The Schutts' neighbors also lost some of their chickens, and the only way they’re able to keep the flies away is with fans.

“There tends to be some areas where they are more likely to be, tall grassy areas, around bushes or trees, they tend to gather if there’s standing water. That helps draw them," Mayor Devick said. "Keeping the yard mowed down, keeping standing water from accumulating will help. And then they can also be attracted to trash cans and where trash and food trash is stored. Make certain that stuff is covered and avoid those areas."

Experts said these flies only live for about three weeks and won’t come back until next year.

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