The greenheads are coming, the greenheads are coming!

I wanted to take her picture so I let her bite me.

I’ve had stranger dates.

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She finds a suitable spot near my elbow. She cuts with her mouthparts that look like ragged handsaws. I resist the urge to slap her. Once she has cut and shredded my capillaries she pulls herself as close to my skin as possible. Blood pools outside of her mouth and runs down my elbow. I’m a healthy bleeder and she can’t drink me fast enough.

Click, click, click. I can’t quite get the shot. Click, click, click. This is to her advantage as she drinks savagely. I move the camera with millimeters of her big green eyes. She won’t move until she’s had her fill. In fact, she can’t pull out quickly because her jagged saw is deep into my flesh.

I finally get the shots I want. Either she senses the photo-shoot is over or she has had her fill and she pulls out of my arm without so much as a thank you and flies off. I was too busy replacing my lens cap to smash her.

My subject was the greenhead fly, a horse-fly that terrorizes New Englanders each July. They are marsh residents but will fly to the forests and the beaches and the lobster shacks for a meal. Like many biting flies, it is only the female that bites. She wants protein-rich blood for egg production. Eggs she will lay in the marsh mud that will hatch into maggot larvae that are predators of small crustaceans and other insects on the marsh. I have been walking at high tide on the marsh surface and floating greenhead larvae bit me. Even as larvae they are mean little buggers.

When the first greenhead is seen in July in New England, newspapers and neighbors act like Paul Revere’s screaming, “The greenheads are coming! The greenheads are coming!”

And when they arrive it’s mayhem.

“Did you hear the greenheads are here, Ethel?”
“Oh goodness, I heard they carried the Reynold’s boy into the woods and roughed him up pretty good.”
“I heard they robbed the local Market Basket grocery store and set fire to the Burn’s place.”
“I hear they never use re-useable shopping bags.”
“Those greenheads are no good.”

Being one to work in the marsh, I do agree that the greenheads are annoying, but they are only here a month (basically from one full moon to another). I grew up in Arkansas where we had big, black horseflies the size of silver dollars and they were liable to bite your arm off if you let them. And they hung around all summer.

We are currently half-way through the greenhead season and my hardy New England friends who mocked my Southern softness in the winter, now shudder at the thought of those big green eyes (‘greenhead’ is a misnomer, should be ‘greeneyes’).

For now, remember it may be your blood that feeds that greenhead, but it is the greenhead that feeds the swallows and the dragonflies.


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