My First Experience with Black Flies!

I had heard stories of the black flies that live in the north, but I never believed that they could be that bad.  I was wrong.  I am trying unsuccessfully not to scratch as I write this.

Last week I went with my Dad and Kay to Mont Tremblant, a mountain resort area in Quebec, Canada.  It was a fantastic place, full of gorgeous rivers, lakes, and mountains.  We went fishing for trout, hiked on great trails, and ate LOTS of fantastic French food.

The area is full of lakes carved by glaciers that retreated long ago.  The lakes are full of frogs and fish.  I saw green frogs and heard their calls, along with the calls of gray tree frogs, bull frogs, and spring peepers.  I did not see any reptiles, but I was lucky to catch a speckled trout on our fishing expedition.  During our time on the boat, there were no insects to be seen (or felt).



I was on the dock of a very nice restaraunt, petting a cat, when I had my first real taste of what black flies are capable of.  They were swarming all around my face and head.  I brushed them away and figured they were kind of like gnats – annoying, but basically harmless.

I went back inside the restaraunt to place my order for dinner (grilled venison, yum!), and noticed I was bleeding around my chest and neck.  The waitress who spoke mostly French, noticed, and began to explain what black flies can do to a person.  She said they liked to crawl under your clothes and hair where they bite throught your skin ans suck blood.  Their bites will cause bleeding, then later, the bites swell and become very itchy and in some people, very painful.

I excused myself from the dinner table, went to the restroom and shook all my clothes out.  I then noticed that I was bleeding from many, many bites on my face, neck, and back.  It was a bit gross.  After the bleeding stopped, I went back to the table and enjoyed a dinner that was magnifique.

A day later, all of the bites had turned into large red welts that itched like mad! I knew I had to avoid getting any more black fly bites.  I now had respect for them.  These were no gnats!

It turns out, black flies breed in clean, fast running creeks and rivers.  The larvae cannot tolerate pollution or still water.  The larvae and adult flies are a major source of food for trouts, birds, and many other insects and animals.  The adults typically come out around mid-May and stick around until the end of July, but the actual “black fly season” depends on location and weather conditions.

Black flies are a major problem for livestock.  Because black flies like to crawl inside nasal passages, cattle an other livestock are sometimes smothered by the swarming flies.  The flies can also spread disease and cause such stress to animals, that they die.

I had a great time in Canada – and I would love to go back.  But this time, I’ll remember to bring the bug spray!


Creature Feature: Ball Python

Ball Python

Python regius


Reptiles Alive Name: “Wilson”

Hisssstory: Wilson was an unwanted pet that we received in June 1998.

RA Diet: Wilson gets to eat medium size frozen and then defrosted rats.  Yummy!

Natural Diet: Birds and mammals.

Range: West Africa.

Habitat: Dry forests and grasslands.

Size: Grows to be an average of 4-5 feet, record of 6.5 feet

Lifespan: Known to live nearly 50 years.

Reproduction: Ball pythons mate in the fall, then after 140 days, the female will lay 6-8 eggs which hatch in about two months.  Unlike most snakes, female ball pythons will usually coil around their eggs and protect them until they hatch.

Conservation: Ball pythons face habitat loss and are sometimes hunted for food and the pet trade.

Cool Facts: Pythons, boas and pit vipers have heat sensing pits near their mouths allowing them to see heat! This special ability helps the snakes capture warm blooded prey in complete darkness.

My Interview with Reptiles Alive Director

 This posting is from a recent email we received:

“One of my students has seen you at our school for an assembly and wanted to include info about you and your reptiles in the magazine he is creating as a classroom project –  He would be thrilled to hear from you.”

My Interview with Reptiles Alive Director Caroline Seitz

Q: What is the most common reptile in Virginia ?

A:Hmmm, that is a tough question.  Black racer snakes, black rat snakes, garter snakes, ringneck snakes, brown snakes, worm snakes, and northern water snakes are all very common.  Also, snapping turtles, painted turtles, and five lined skink lizards too.

Q: What do you like more, lizards or snakes?

A:  I love them both!

Q: What habitat do most reptiles live in?

A:  You can find reptiles every where on Earth except Antarctica and Ireland.  They live in forests, deserts, gasslands, and wetlands.  Even in the ocean.  It is hard to say where “most” reptiles live.

Q: What is the most deadliest lizard?

A:  There are reports of Komodo monitor lizards, Gila monster and beaded lizards killing people after they were bitten.  However, the reports are very few and very hard to verify – so in general, I think that lizards are not very deadly.

Q: What is the most deadliest snake?

A:  Many Australian snakes, like the taipan and brown snake, are highly venomous.  The African puff adder and Indian Russell’s viper probably kill the most people, however, because they live in areas where there are lots of people who walk in bare feet and there is not very good medical care.

Q: What is your favorite reptile?

A:  I love them all!

Q: What do you feed most of your reptiles?

A:  Our insectivores eat live crickets, giant mealworms, giant cockroaches and earth worms.  Our herbivores mostly eat home grown veggies like dandelions, collard greens, kale, bok choy, and more.  Our carnivores eat mostly frozen and then defrosted mice and rats.

Q: How many reptiles can you think of?

A:There are about:  27 kinds of crocodilians, 900 kinds of turtles, 6000 lizards, 3000 snakes, 2 tuataras, and maybe 10 amphisbeanians.

Q: How many reptiles do you personally own?

A: I personally own one cat named Mr. Shadow Kitty Berrow.

Q: What is the most rarest reptile in Virginia?

A: Maybe the Northern Pine Snake.

Sunshine Status

Some of you may know that Sunshine, our albino Burmese python, was diagnosed with a bacterial lung infection a few months ago and was on sick leave for about 3 months.  She has made a full recovery and is back at work right now at the Celebrate Fairfax festival.

Back in early March, we noticed Sunshine seemed a bit congested, so we took her to see Dr. Emily Hoppmann, a DVM who specializes in exotic animals, including snakes.  So, you could actually call her a “snake doctor.”  She works at SEAVS (Stahl Exotic Animal Veterinary Services) which is nationally renowned exotic animal clinic located in Vienna, VA.

Dr. Hoppmann examined Sunshine and took a nasal culture to be sent for testing.  Sunshine tested positive for two types of bacteria that can cause respiratory disease in snakes.  Two antibiotics were prescribed and every day for about 30 days, we had to give Sunshine a shot.  She didn’t get a lollipop after her shots, but she did get better.

After Sunshine was finsished with her medicine, we wanted to wait until she had rested for awhile before taking her to work.  Sunshine is now doing great – she is eating lots of defrosted frozen rats and is very active.

We also learned two things about her from Dr. Hoppmann.  One, Sunshine IS a GIRL!  We actually didn’t know for sure until now.  Two,  Sunshine is getting to be a senior citizen.  Dr. Hoppmann explained that most albino Burmese pythons live around 20 years or so, and Sunshine is around 16.

We are so grateful to Dr. Hoppmann and all of the great reptile vets at SEAVS.  Thank you all for helping Reptiles Alive keep our reptiles alive!