How to Get Rid of Biting Flies at the Beach

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Heading to the beach for a day of sun, sand, crystal blue water and a fun, relaxing day can come to a screeching halt when you’re suddenly being bitten by sand flies.  

These biting insects are often found in sandy areas. These bites typically will not cause serious harm but more likely are to cause a skin reaction of red, itchy bumps or possibly a rash. In extreme cases, these insect bites are capable of spreading diseases like – leishmaniasis and pappataci fever.

It’s important to keep some perspective, as even a less than ideal day at the beach is better than most other days. So, let's look at how to get rid of biting flies at the beach to combat these little intruders to our party.

What the Experts Say

Scientists have gathered significant information on controlling biting insects. These biting flies are known by a variety of names including:

  • Sand Flies
  • No-See-Ums
  • Sand Gnats
  • Sand Fleas
  • Chitras
  • Granny Nippers
  • Marumakshika
  • Midges
  • Punkies
  • Greenheads

For the purpose of this article we will use the term sand flies to mean any species or genus of flying, biting, blood-sucking dipteran (fly) encountered in sandy areas. Their name(s) are far less important than knowing what attracts them and what will help to keep them away.  

insect bites on the leg

The bite marks of sand flies are larger than the typical mosquito bite and leaves a red, bumpy mark that often itches. A few key points to understand about sand flies:

  • Sand flies thrive in sandy beach areas, mangrove swamps, tidal flats and coastal lagoons.
  • Activity peaks during the summer months of June through August. 
  • Inactive during periods of strong breezes and/or cooler temperatures.
  • Sand flies are attracted to carbon dioxide, shiny surfaces, warmth, and moving objects.
  • Biting flies are attracted to darker shades and colors.
  • They travel in swarms.
  • Sand flies do not move about quickly. Activities like a run on the beach, kayaking or other brisk movement means they are not likely to be able to keep pace with you.
  • Female biting flies (not the males) feed on blood, due to a need for protein to feed their eggs and support their reproductive cycles.

The sand fly reproductive life cycle is dictated by some of the following circumstances:

  • The life cycle of the sand fly is between 20 to 40 days.
  • Reproduction cycle thrives in a warm, humid environment.
  • Cold temperatures cause eggs to stop developing and/or die off.
  • The female sand fly lays from 30 to 80 eggs under ideal conditions.
  • Eggs hatch between a week and 2 weeks from being laid.
  • The larvae will become a pupa during this time and hatch typically just before dawn.

Due to the fact that biting flies are active during the day time hours, they can have a significant impact on beachgoers. When large numbers of sand flies are present and active, they can have a negative impact on beach area tourism.  

Winds blowing out into the ocean will carry flies to the beach areas, where they will take shelter from the wind in dune areas. Winds are more likely to be conducive to sand flies in the morning hours. Due to the thermal currents, afternoon winds are pulled from the ocean towards land, which can deter fly activity.

When a female sand fly bites an individual, they release their saliva, which has an anticoagulant, limiting your blood's ability to coagulate or clot rapidly. Coagulating blood is thicker, making it difficult for the female to suck the blood she needs for her eggs. 

Ways to Protect Yourself

woman spraying insect repellant

The most effective and practical means for dealing with the biting fly population is to eliminate and properly manage the potential food sources and breeding areas. These insects cannot develop in dry areas/materials. There are several measures that can be taken by property owners and public management departments.

As were focused in this article on spending a few days at the beach, let's look at some of the things you can do to avoid being bitten by these pests:

  • Use repellents.  
  • Sand flies rest in areas where vegetation and debris (algae) accumulates. Locating yourself in the moist sand areas, nearer the water may help to lessen the fly activity.
  • Movement (walking, running) and staying active will help to reduce the impact of sand flies.
  • Staying in the water and keeping your skin wet is less attractive for flies.
  • Although not ideal for a day at the beach, long pants and long sleeve shirts will protect you from being bitten.
  • Wear light colored clothing as sand flies are attracted to darker colors.
  • Sand flies have difficulty biting through creams or cosmetics that are applied to provide a layer of protection.
  • Avoid wearing perfumes or sweet smelling items or eating candy or drinking sweet soft drinks, as they will attract sand flies.
  • Use a fan to circulate the air. Portable fans are available that can be used for a day at the beach. The two benefits of creating air flow are that it makes it difficult for these insects to fly in that area and it helps to blow away the carbon dioxide (sand flies are attracted to CO2) we exhale

Natural Repellents

citronella candles

There are a whole host of natural repellents that you can try that have varying success in fighting off biting flies. Although suitable for all individuals, natural substances are ideal for individuals with allergies, young children and those concerned with the impact of chemicals found in over-the-counter repellents. The following are a list of natural products that have been identified as a deterrent and ward off biting flies:

  • Vanilla extract
  • Lavender
  • Pine branch extract
  • Thick layer of baby oil, creams or cosmetics (film covering makes it difficult for biting insects to penetrate)
  • Citronella (skin products or burn a candle or oil lamp)
  • Eucalyptus citriodora (skin products or burn a candle or oil lamp)
  • Apple cider vinegar: an old time remedy of drinking a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar 3 or 4 times a day, for 3 or 4 days prior to heading to the beach.
  • Like with apple cider vinegar you can eat a clove of garlic for several days before going to the beach. The scent of these products released from your skin serves to mask your natural scent that attracts biting flies. 
  • Skin So Soft: This product has had so much success that Avon is now producing a Skin So Soft bug spray.
  • Taking vitamin B
  • Listerine and alcohol
  • Dryer sheets
  • Lemon or lime citrus juice
  • Extracts from orange peels
  • Apply coconut or avocado oil
  • Rub the inside of a banana peel on your skin
  • Apply Tee tree oil to your clothing (not directly to your body)

Most people find natural repellents to be a preference in attempting to ward off biting insects, however if they prove ineffective you may want to consider a commercial insect repellent

Sprays or lotions that contain DEET are often recommended as an effective deterrent for biting flies. Repellents containing Permethrin have also been proven to be effective. 

Do your research before using these products as they are also potentially harmful to your pets (dogs and cats), fish and marine life, as well as beneficial insects like pollinating bees. 

Soothing the Itch

woman scratching her itchy neck

The bite of a sand fly will usually result in red, itchy bumps or welts on your skin. If you have been bitten and are experiencing discomfort you can do the following to help soothe the pain, itching and discomfort:

  1. Wash and clean the impacted areas, using a mild soap and warm water.
  2. Avoid scratching the itchy areas, as much as you are able to. Scratching can cause further irritation, potentially break the skin and increase the risk of infecting the area. 
  3. Applying topical agents, like baking soda paste, an alcohol wipe, aloe vera, witch hazel, or an over-the-counter product like hydrocortisone ointment or calamine lotion.
  4. If the itching persists, using an oral antihistamine, either a non drowsy (Allegra or Claritin) or one that may make you feel sleepy (Benadryl or Chlor-Trimeton). 
  5. Placing ice or gently rubbing it over the affected area will help to numb the itching.

Final Thoughts

Nasty biting flies can be a pain at that beach but they don’t have to be if you take a few steps to reduce their impact. We have provided you with a variety of options to consider and try.

Life is an adventure and spending a relaxing day with family and friends on the beach is about as good as it gets. Try out our suggestions and let us know in the comments sections how they worked for you.