Painful horsefly bites will strike as the hot weather continues

Painful horsefly bites set to soar as the hot weather causes insect populations to hit levels found in Mediterranean countries, reveal experts (and here’s what to do if you are bitten)

  • Horseflies come out in June and July and suck the blood of large mammals
  • When they bite humans it can cause swelling, redness, pain and infection
  • British conservationists say horseflies are ‘out in abundance’ this year 

Painful horsefly bites are expected to soar this summer as insect populations boom to levels found in Mediterranean countries, experts have revealed.

Sunny days and temperatures pushing 30°C are cause for celebration for humans but they are good news for the biting flies, too.

Horseflies are most active in the summer months and, although known for biting horses, they also have a taste for human skin.

Conservationists say they are seeing huge numbers of the blood-sucking insects this year and people are being bitten regularly.

Ben Keywood, of the Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust, told MailOnline: ‘This year Britain is seeing insect populations more like what you’d expect to see in a Mediterranean country. Unfortunately this means we have to put up with the less popular ones as well.’

The insect bites can be painful and cause blistering or swelling, and bring the possibility of infection. 

But experts have now provided their tips on how to avoid being bitten or what to do if a horsefly bites you – including using insect repellent, keeping the wound clean and applying a cold compress.

Horseflies are more active in summer and bite people and other mammals because they need the minerals from blood in order to lay their eggs

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All insects are more active in warmer weather, and horseflies are no exception. 

These large, fast and big-eyed flies tend to come to life in June and July, and the females bite because they need to drink blood in order to produce eggs.

When people are bitten, bites tend to be painful and may cause swelling, a lump or hives, and possible dizziness or weakness.

But bites are not uncommon, especially in rural areas, and conservationists say there are a particularly high number of them this year.

Insect experts recommend using repellent or wearing long clothes to stop the flies biting, or washing the wound and applying a cold compress if you have already been bitten.

‘We’ve never seen so many horseflies’ 

Fiona Dryden, spokesperson for the Northumberland Wildlife Trust told MailOnline: ‘Horseflies are out in abundance this year. 

‘We’ve spoken to our team members out in the reserves and they’ve all got massive red lumps from bites and say they’ve never seen so many of the flies.

‘It’s summer, they’re here and they bite. They’re particularly attracted to long grass and damp woodland.


Many different types of insect bite or sting people, especially in the summer when people are more likely to be outside in fields or gardens and wearing short clothes exposing their skin.

Here is the NHS advice for what to do if you are stung or bitten: 

  • Remove the sting, tick or hairs if still in the skin
  • Wash the affected area with soap and water. 
  • Apply a cold compress (such as a flannel or cloth cooled with cold water) or an ice pack to any swelling for at least 10 minutes. 
  • Raise or elevate the affected area if possible, as this can help reduce swelling. 
  • Avoid scratching the area or bursting any blisters, to reduce the risk of infection – if your child has been bitten or stung, it may help to keep their fingernails short and clean. 
  • Avoid traditional home remedies, such as vinegar and bicarbonate of soda, as they’re unlikely to help.
  • If you think the wound might be getting infected, such as if it is becoming increasingly painful, red or swollen, or is filled with pus, visit your GP. 

‘Anyone who has been bitten and is concerned about it should go to their local chemist, who should be able to help them in the first instance.’

The weather so far this year has been ideal for insects of all kinds to thrive, experts say.

Horseflies are one of the most common biting insects and are found all over the country, but particularly near to standing water, livestock and woodland.  

Ben Keywood, of the Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust explains: ‘Good weather has helped insects life cycles along and we’re seeing increased numbers of all kinds of insects.

‘Britain has the insect populations of a Mediterranean country this year’ 

‘This year Britain is seeing insect populations more like what you’d expect to see in a Mediterranean country. Unfortunately this means that as well as the “good” ones like bees and butterflies we have to put up with the less popular ones as well, like horseflies.

‘Insects benefit from a cold winter because they are dormant so are more susceptible to things like fungi, but those are less active in cold weather.

‘Then a hot spring and an even hotter start to the summer means more insects survive to adulthood and they have more broods, so the population snowballs.’ 

Mr Keywood adds that horseflies are more common in rural areas because they reproduce by biting large mammals and lay their eggs in standing water.

Horsefly bites can cause more severe reactions than other types of insect because of the way people’s immune systems react to proteins in the fly’s body.

They also release a chemical which stops the blood clotting so they can drink more, which contributes to the body’s response.

The bites can be slow to heal and have the potential to become infected – if someone has been bitten and has symptoms of an infection such as swelling, pus or worsening pain, they should see their GP, the NHS says. 

‘Our bodies have a strong immune response to horsefly bites’ 

‘Horsefly bites can transmit viruses, bacteria and worms from animals to humans, but that isn’t a big problem in the UK,’ said Dr Herman Wijnen, biological sciences lecturer at Southampton University.

‘Our bodies have a strong immune response to the bites because of proteins in the flies. 

Last year people turned to social media to share the horrifying results of their horsefly bites: Facebook user Leyla posted a photo of her sister’s leg after it swelled up

‘If you were pricked with a needle the size of a horsefly’s mouth you wouldn’t see anything like the same reaction.

‘Horseflies’ development depends on warm weather, and when there are more flies there will be more bites.

Wash the bite and apply a cold compress 

‘They are more common in areas with standing water because they live in aquatic environments, and also around livestock. 

‘People can use insect repellent or cover up to avoid being bitten, or if they have already been bitten they should wash the bite and apply a cold compress. Medical attention is not usually needed.’ 

Horseflies are recognisable because they are larger and faster than houseflies, and have big eyes which are often green.

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