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Horse Fly (Tabanus spp.)

Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Horse Fly

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Large, robust Horse Flies are perfectly sized for their irksome feeding habits on both equine and human targets.

Updated: 08/10/2022; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
Horse Flies, also known as Gadflies, are super-sized flies that excel at aggravating livestock and people. Though adults mostly drink nectar and plant juices, female Horse Flies need protein in order to produce eggs. Blood is the source of this protein and it can come from horses, cows, sheep, rabbits, or even people. The bite from a Horse Fly female can be felt right away, creating a red bump. Victims usually swat at the fly to scare it away after feeling the bite, but in a relentless pursuit for a blood meal, many female Horse Flies refuse to leave a target and doggedly pursue it even if it tries running away. For centuries, Horse Fly behavior and bites have been so bothersome that they are mentioned in classic literature, myth, and song.

Horse Flies are active during the day and rest at night. They do not like darkness, so they are rarely seen in forests and woodlands. Pastures that offer shady groves help livestock escape from the attention of Horse Flies. Lagoons and ponds also allow animals to stay submerged, reducing the number of places where a Horse Fly can bite. Horses and other animals are often seen using their tails to swat at flies trying to feed on their back and legs. Some blood-borne pathogens can be transmitted from animal to animal through a Horse Fly bite; some treatable diseases like tularemia can be passed from animal to human. For this reason, livestock herders and cattlemen try to protect their animals from the fly by using Horse Fly traps and building shaded shelters.

Unlike smaller House Flies, Horse Flies are not fuzzy or hairy. All Horse Flies have large eyes. In females, they are separated by a space; in males, they touch each other. This species has a black body and brownish, transparent wings. It also has a black dot on the wing along with some dark marks near it. The spiky, short antennae at the front of the face are an orange-red color. Females lay fertilized eggs that hatch within a week. Other types of flies and even some wasps parasitize the larvae, which can help control a Horse Fly population size, certainly a skill appreciated by all.©InsectIdentification.org

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General Characteristics

Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
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Taxonomic Hierarchy

Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Diptera
        Family: Tabanidae
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          Genus: Tabanus
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            Species: spp.

Identifying Information

Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Tabanus spp.
Category: Fly or Mosquito
Size (Adult; Length): 15mm to 26mm (0.59" to 1.02")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: black; orange; brown
Descriptors: flying; biting; large; big; brown wings; dot; orange antennae; big eyes; white triangles on back; loud; black body

Relative Size Comparison

Typical Size Between 15mm (0.6in) and 26mm (1.0in)
Lo: 15mm
Md: 20.5mm
Hi: 26mm

Territorial Map*

U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Horse Fly may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the Horse Fly. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.
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