Some Like It Hot: Horse Flies Included

A new study shows that horseflies typically bite horses standing in the sunshine—and they prefer those that have darker-colored coats. A horsefly is four times more likely to bite a brown horse standing in the sun than a whiter horse, which is most likely why brown horses spend more time in the shade than an open, sunny field.

Hungarian scientists Drs. Gábor Horváth, Ádám Pereszlényi, Ádám Egri, Tímea Tóth and Imre Miklós Jánosi hypothesized that horseflies prefer areas that have elevated temperatures, like darker-colored horses that are standing in the sun. They theorized that warmer microclimates may allow their wing muscles to react quicker and their nervous system to function better. Both factors would allow them to fly away rapidly when the horse tried to dislodge them. The warmer a horse is, the more likely the horsefly will escape successfully.

To test their theory, the researchers used warm and cold sunlit barrels to attract horseflies. The warmer barrels imitated sunlit black horses and the cooler barrels represented brown, light brown or white horses.

The scientists then attempted to catch the horseflies in a tea strainer. After each capture effort, the air temperature and the surface temperature of the barrel were taken with a contact thermometer. Their results proved their hypothesis: that the escape success of horse flies is driven by temperature; horse flies were more easily caught the cooler the area they landed on. Horse flies preferred the warmer barrels, which represented darker-colored horses standing in the sun.

The scientists also note that horseflies may choose to attach warmer hosts as they may be sweating and have enlarged capillaries, which is beneficial for blood-sucking insects.

Read the full study here.

Read more at HorseTalk.

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