Hi, my name is Stomoxys calcitrans. If you don’t speak scientific, my common name is Stable Fly. I have a lot of nicknames: biting fly, garbage fly or blood-sucking fly. I often get confused with the house fly (Musca domestica) because we look alike, but I’m far less domesticated.
I’m a wild insect that cannot be tamed. Seriously, don’t laugh.
I may be small, but cattle fear me and my friends. We can cause cow-bunching, stomping and tail-swishing, and best of all, milk loss. Most farmers don’t even give us credit for bunching up their cows — they mark it up to hot, humid temperatures.
Do you see this piercing mouthpart folded below my head? It is my secret weapon. I can feed on any warm-blooded animal, including humans. We like to feed during the day. After feeding, we move off the victim to a vertical surface to digest our food. So, we can be quite hard to detect once we go into stealth mode.
We are quite prolific, just like other flies. Our females “ovulate” 40-80 eggs per batch (quite the flush cows, huh?) and have 10-12 “calvings” over a lifetime of 21 to 25 days. Our “old-timers” can live up to 78 days in cool climates.
Our females need blood meals to reproduce. We males feed on blood just because we can. In fact, if we get organized, a group of 40 of us on each cow can drop milk production by 30 percent per month.
If you have cows and rotting organic matter, we will travel. We are the gypsies of the fly world. We can move great distances on our own merit. When we are picked up by a weather front, we can be carried for hundreds of miles. My cousins often hitch rides on cattle trucks, which is a bit less original, but still effective.
This allows us to move into new, unpopulated fly territory overnight to launch our surprise attack on your cows.
Our home of choice is urine-soaked hay, manure piles (not fresh, but rotten), wet hay bales and grass clippings. We do not have to compete with other flies for this housing type, so it is ideal and usually very available, depending on the farm. Maggots (toddlers to you humans), burrow into the breeding material and continue to move deeper as the material dries. In non-freezing climates, we can “hibernate” in this type of material until it warms up again.
Do we have any weakness? Well, none that I would admit. I’ll just say that we don’t spend much time on tidy farms, if you know what I mean. But those are few and far between.
A million of my buddies and I can develop from the residue of a round bale feeding site. If an inquisitive person were able to find our secret hideout and spray us with a certain kryptonite called a pyrethroid, we are defenseless. We like to shade ourselves in the afternoons, so use your imagination a bit and you will find us.
Pyrethroids do not have any residual activity unless a special type of pyrethroid is used, which is called permethrin. Our research and development department is making a stable fly resistant to certain permethrins; we are a resourceful bunch.
Well, I expect to see you soon. I need to eat and fly. I think I see some fine-looking Jersey legs over that way.
Angela M. Daniels is a veterinarian with Circle H Headquarters LLC, a dairy and swine veterinary practice, food safety laboratory and DHIA milk-testing and contract research organization in Dalhart, Texas.