Since arriving in Belize, we've gotten our share of insect bites: mosquitoes, sand flies, and various biting ants are fairly ubiquitous, at least when there is no wind or it's blowing from the right direction. We've been lucky enough not to be stung by any yellow jackets or hornets to date. However, on our recent trip to the mainland, we experienced a biting insect we knew nothing about. We're now properly educated!
There we were, innocently walking from our cabana over to breakfast through the grass at Mama Noots Eco-Resort
in Mayflower Bocawina National Park in the Stann Creek District of Belize. We hadn't bothered to put on any insect repellent for such a short walk, though of course we'd planned on slathering ourselves with it before our hike in the jungle after breakfast. All of a sudden, we noticed that we were attracting little black, gnat-like bugs, especially on our lower legs. It felt like they were biting us, though their bites didn't hurt or sting badly like a fire ant bite; it was just a passing annoyance, kind of like a no-see-um bite. After slapping at them awhile, we realized that where each one bit us, there was a small drop of blood.
As we arrived at the dining room, we ran into Liz, the proprietor, with one of the zip-line workers. We asked them about the bites, and they immediately recognized that they were made by some sort of fly. I could never understand exactly what they were saying; it sounded like "bottle fly", but maybe they'd called it "blood fly"? The latter was certainly fitting!
Here's how the bites looked the day I got bit. Not too bad yet.
We didn't give the bites much more thought until that night, when I realized that not only were my calves and shins itching like crazy, they were swelling up, especially the right one, where I'd gotten many more bites, for some reason. The bites were redder and more inflamed, and the skin on my lower right leg felt tight and hot to the touch. I've had bites that itched this bad before (fire ants -- ugh), but never accompanied by this amount of generalized swelling. Plus, as time went on, I could see how many bites I'd gotten, since each one was marked with a blood drop that began red but soon turned to black. NOT a pretty sight. And we were not very close to medical care, being in an off-grid jungle resort, so I hoped they wouldn't be even worse in the morning and require medical care. I counted 87 bites on my right leg alone!
Fortunately, although the bites continued to look really bad for the next couple of days, and my right lower leg remained swollen and inflamed, I didn't seem to be getting much worse after that first night, so I didn't seek any medical care. I'd brought plenty of Benedryl (an essential in Belize), which I lived on for the next few days to try to help with the itching and swelling. I guess I am quite allergic to these strange bites, since Barry didn't swell up nor have nearly the itching that I did. Liz also confirmed that she barely noticed them. Somehow I managed to hike even with the swollen leg, and with plenty of insect repellent, don't think I got too many more bites after that first morning.
By the time we got home from our late July trip, my legs were feeling a lot better. The swelling was gone and the itching was much less, but they still looked bad. It took a couple of weeks for all the little scabs to fall off.
As soon as we unpacked, we googled to find out more about these mystery flies, and although information was sparse, we did find a few things.
They are not bottle nor blood flies, nor are they (thank the gods) bot flies
, the awful creatures whose larvae burrow under the skin of humans. They are sometimes referred to as bot-less
flies because of this fact; but the correct name is BOTLASS Fly
; blackflies, bloodsucking insects). They are a local type of blackfly and are apparently found primarily in the Silk Grass Creek area of Belize [ref: http://biological-diversity.info/Downloads/Mayflower_REA_s.pdf
, search for botlass], which is very close to Mayflower Bocawina Park and Mama Noots. We found several mentions of them in blogs and forums solely in this area, but no mention of them elsewhere in Belize, nor have we encountered them anywhere else in the country where we have traveled fairly extensively.
Tiny Botlass Fly packs a mean punch
Fortunately, the referenced report states that botlass flies are not known to spread any diseases. Actually, even a month earlier (June) when we were in the same park, we didn't get a single bite, so they must be seasonal as well.
This photo was taken on the last night of our trip, and you can see bites on my lower right leg.
And you can see them here, the day we arrived home.
I'm pleased to say that within a couple of weeks of arriving home, all the bites had healed, and I don't even believe I have any scarring, thankfully. I hope this is the worst the jungle ever has to throw at me!