How to Get Rid of Horse Flies – Facts & Control Techniques

Horse flies are one of the most ferocious breed of flies. Unlike a common house fly, horse flies have cutting and tearing type mouth parts. They are a nuisance for livestock, horse flies (particularly female ones) land on the body of cattle and bite them to draw their blood.

And unlike mosquitoes, the bite of a horse fly is very painful. They are equipped with scissor-like jaws that can tear flesh. Horse flies are most active in humid and warm conditions, that’s why they are mostly found near beaches and lakes.

Now before we see how to get rid of horse flies, let’s have a look at their physical attributes so that we can identify them easily.

Identifying a Horse Fly:

Horse fly

Physical Appearance:

Horse flies are yellowish-brown or blackish in color. About 20 to 25 mm long with a huge head and hairs all over the body. They resemble to honey bees very much, except for having only one pair of wings. Wings are covered with faint smokey spots.

The eyes of a Horse fly are beautifully colored with lustrous metallic color shades. The eyes are compound, dichoptic (separated) in females and holloptic (continuous) in males. Their mouth is composed of six flesh piercing parts.

Behavior and Habitat:

Horse flies are mostly found in low lying pastures near creeks, streams or tanks. They love damp and warm climate as such climates are most preferable for the immature stages to develop. Female species feed on animal blood while male counterparts are pollen collectors.

Horse flies are attracted towards dark moving objects and carbon di-oxide, and this is how they locate a prey.

Feeding Habits:

The females feed on blood while the males feed on flower nectar, honeydew, plant juices, and other plant liquids. Female horse flies need a blood meal before they can lay eggs, as it provides them the adequate amounts of protein to reproduce effectively. In immature stages like larva or maggot they feed on small insects present near the breeding areas.

Life Cycle:

Eggs are laid on or under gravels or vegetation usually close to a water source. On hatching, the larvae move into water or moist soil. And during this time they feed on small insects or replies. Larvae are generally whitish and spindle-shaped. The larval stage is up to an year long, after this the larvae burrow into the soil, starts to pupate.  The pupal period may range from 6 to 12 days. Adult flies emerge out of the puparium within 3-10 weeks.


  • The bite of a horse fly is very painful.
  • They are vectors of diseases such as leucocytozoan.
  • They cause livestock to lose weight.
  • Horse flies are also reported to transmit diseases like anaplasmosis, hog cholera, tularemia and anthrax.

Few Interesting Facts about Horse Flies:

  • Horse fly belongs to ‘tabanidae’ family, and these are one of the world’s largest flies.
  • Horse Flies are found throughout the world except extreme northern and southern latitudes.
  • There are approximately 3,000 species of horse flies in the world.
  • The mouth parts of a female horse fly look like saw blades. It cuts a hole into the skin in order to feed on the blood that comes out.
  • Male horse flies do not bite as they do not have biting mouth parts, hence they feed on flower nectar.
  • A horse fly larva takes a year to become an adult. And an adult horse fly lives for only few days.
  • Horseflies have different names – for example: in Canada people call them ‘ bull dog flies’ and in Australia people call them ‘ March flies’.

How to Get Rid of Horse Flies:

After having learned a lot about horse flies, let’s see how to get rid of them.

In this section, I will enlist few ways that will help you to control them.

1. Using Disposable Fly Traps :

Disposable Fly Traps

Disposable fly traps are one of the best methods to trap horse flies. These traps contain an attractant that gets activated by sunlight and water. After getting activated the attractant lures the horse flies to enter the trap, once the flies enter the trap they get trapped.

To use these traps you just need to unpack them, add bait/attractant with some water, and hang it up. These traps provide a safe way to control even the pesticide resistant horseflies. The best part about these traps is a single trap can catch upto 20,000 flies and can be used for several weeks.

Check out this one at Amazon, it has lots of positive reviews.

Recommended Reading: Disposable Fly Traps

2. Using a homemade Fly Trap against Horse Flies:

As I have already told that, horse flies get attracted to dark moving objects, now we are going to use the same fact against them and make a trap that can attract horse flies to kill them.

How to Get Rid of Horse Flies

To make this trap we need following items:

  • A tough string.
  • A dark coloured medium sized ball.
  • A fly paper (commercial or homemade).
  • A stool.

To make the trap, attach the dark colored ball to the string and tie the open end of this string to the bottom of the stool. Next, wrap the fly paper over the legs of the stool. After this, hang the stool in the area where you have horse fly infestation.

Every few hours, just push the ball so that the ball starts swinging in air. The swinging motion of the dark colored ball will attract the horse flies. When they come near the trap, they try to land on it and get stuck on the fly paper.

3. Coke Bottle Trap made with Rotten Meat:

This one is a very simple trap and has worked for many people. So, for this all you need is:

  • An empty coke bottle.
  • A sharp knife or a pair of scissors to cut the bottle.
  • A drill or any other sharp object to draw some holes.
  • Cellophane tape.
  • 50-100 gram rotten meat.

To make this trap, take the coke bottle and cut it with the knife as shown in the following picture.

Cut the bottle

Next, drill a 1 cm hole in the bottle cap as shown.


After this, put the rotten meat pieces with some water in the lower part of the bottle. And fix the upper part upside down as shown.

join the bottle

Fix the edges properly with cellophane tape. Hang these traps near the infested area (away from your cattle). The smell of rotten meat will attract the horse flies and they will try to enter the bottle. And once they enter the bottle it will be difficult for them to escape.

Note: Instead of water, some people suggest that it’s better to add Cow urine (aged for at least 1 week) to the trap as doing this increases the efficiency of the trap.

4. Sticky Fly Paper Trap with Odour Baits:

Many people have achieved success in controlling horse flies by using large sticky fly traps along with some attractant. It has also been proved [here] that the efficiency of regular fly paper traps increases significantly when they are used with odour baits.

To make this work, first of all you will need a large sticky fly paper trap [like this one] and along with them you could use odour baits.

For Odour baits you could use any of the following:

  • Carbon dioxide (CO 2) – As carbon dioxide is a component of cattle breath so horse flies are attracted to it. You could use a CO2 cylinder or ‘dry ice’ to attract them. But you would need large quantities of CO2 gas to make this work in actual field conditions.
  • Acetone (Nail Polish or Varnish Remover) – Acetone is also a component of cattle breath so many species of horse flies are also significantly attracted to this liquid.
  • Octenol (1-octen-3-ol) – Octenol is a component of cattle sweat, and hence it also attracts some species of flies to a moderate extent. But as Octenol is a very costly chemical hence it is only being used in lab experiments against horse flies.
  • Ammonia (NH3 vapour) – Ammonia is a component of cattle urine and is also seen to attract some species of tabanids.
  • Cow urine (aged for at least 1 week) – Cow urine was one of the first things that was discovered to attract horseflies. And as it is freely accessible and quite easily dispensed, it is a popular attractant particularly among cattle farmers.

5. Umbrella Type Horse Fly Trap:

Umbrella trap is proven to be very effective against horse flies. To make this you will need following items:

  • 4 pieces of plastic sheeting or plastic screening 5 feet long 4 feet wide.
  • A stapler or glue.
  • A 5 or 6 feet long pole.
  • A plastic jar.
  • A black plastic or rubber ball 16 to 20 inches in diameter.

To make this trap – join, stitch, or staple the 4 pieces of plastic sheeting to form a pyramid shape as shown in the below image.


The size of the pyramid should be about 4 feet high and 3 feet wide along each of the four bases. Next, a ring should be attached to each lower corner to attach guy lines that hold the trap up.

After this, connect the 6 feet pole at the centre of the pyramid. Connect the ball to this pole with a 5 feet long string. Make sure when the trap is fully erect the ball should hang just below the plastic sheets.


At the apex of the pyramid, cut a small hole and staple or stitch a 5 inch cardboard plate. Fasten the jar lid upside down and draw a 2 inch hole into the lid and the cardboard plate. Next, glue a plastic cone inside the lid and connect the jar. This jar will be used to capture the flies.


To install the trap, insert some part of the centre pole into the ground to make it erect, so that it can hold the canopy off the ground. After this tie the guy lines with some supporting sticks so that they can hold the canopy like tent ropes. And the trap is ready to catch horseflies.

6. Manning Trap for Horse Flies:

Manning trap works on the same principal i.e. attracting the flies by a dark moving object and then trapping them in a container. A typical manning trap looks like the one shown below.


Note: Please note that there are many different ways to construct a manning trap and I have shown the simplest one here. Even horse pal traps and H –Traps are also modified forms of a manning trap.

To make a manning trap you would need:

  • A tripod stand or some wood to make your own stand.
  • A plastic sheet or cloth.
  • A black coloured ball.
  • Small Funnel.
  • A string.
  • A bottle.

First of all, make a 5 feet tripod stand if you don’t have one. Next, draw a 3 – 5 cm hole into the top of the tripod and attach the funnel over it. After this connect the bottle to this as shown in the above image. If needed you can use cellophane tape to attach the bottle over the funnel, but make sure it is well attached with the funnel.

Connect the dark coloured ball to the string and tie the open end of this string to the bottom of the tripod, so that it hangs at least 2 feet above the tripod legs. Cover the top 3 feet of the stand with the plastic sheet or cloth.

After this keep the trap near the infested area and you will soon see the bottle filled with dead horseflies.

Check out this H – Trap on Amazon.

7. Homemade Repellents for Horse Flies:

It is seen that horseflies hate the fragrance of certain natural oils, so you could use them to create a repellent for you or your pets.

Repellent 1:

To make this repellent mix the following contents and store them in a bottle.

  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup Avon Skin So Soft (Bath oil)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 tablespoon eucalyptus oil

You could use the repellent directly on the skin of your pets.

Note: Before using this please consult your Vet.

Repellent 2:

To make this repellent mix the following contents and store them in a bottle.

  • 1 cup light mineral oil
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. citronella oil
  • 1 tsp. eucalyptus essential oil
  • 1 tsp. lemon dish soap

You could use the repellent directly on the skin of your pets.

Note: Before using this please consult your Vet.

Repellent 3:

To make this repellent mix the following contents and store them in a bottle.

  • 1 part of lavender oil
  • 2 parts of water
  • 2 parts of alcohol

You could use the repellent directly on the skin of your pets.

Note: Before using this please consult your Vet.

Recommended ReadingNatural oils to repel flies

8. Using Insecticides:

Theoretically, it is possible to kill the horse fly larvae with insecticides, but as they live near streams or rivers so doing this would make the water poisonous or polluted. So, treating them in larval stage is almost impossible.

But, field trials have confirmed that daily treatment of cattle with a naturally occurring insecticide called ‘synergized pyrethrins‘ reduces the biting rates by horse flies without adversely affecting cattle.

This insecticide is produced by the plants of the genus ‘Chrysanthemum‘ and is considered one of the most safest insecticides till date.

You can get the concentrated pyrethrins insecticide from any farm supply or agricultural chemical firms. The concentration of the insecticide in the spray varies according to the animal to be treated. For example: if you wish to treat horses then you should buy the formulation labelled specifically for them.

For best results, the insecticide must be sprayed daily on the cattle. But partial control can also be achieved by spraying it on every other day. You could spray the insecticide directly on the cattle or can use a sponge to do this.

9. Using Dish Soap and Vinegar Spray to kill Horse Flies:

Dish soap is very effective against most breeds of flies, including horse flies. Dish soap contains borax which is an insecticide; the best part about such a spray is that it does not have any ill-effect on you or your animals.

To make a dish soap spray, take an empty spray bottle and add 4 tablespoons of dish soap, 2 cups of white vinegar to it, then add 1 cup of warm water, shake the mixture and your dish soap spray is ready. Spray it on horse flies and watch them dying instantly.

10. Commercially available Horse Fly Repellents:

I have seen many products that are manufactured to work against horse flies but most of them fail. But there are also few products that work superbly against them.

These products are:

  • Equisect Botanical Fly Repellent Rtu Spray – This is a natural fly spray that works against 5 different species of flies including horse flies. Check it out on Amazon.
  • Pyranha Wipe N Spray – This repellent contains ‘pyrethrin’ (which is considered to be the safest insecticide) and works well against horse flies. Check it out on Amazon.

Note: Make sure to consult your Vet before using any such products.

Recommended Reading: Natural oils to repel flies

Prevention Tips against Horse Flies:

  • Keep your animals clean.
  • Clean up the barn at least twice a week, clear-out the manure, and spilled feed. You could also spray the manure heaps with insecticides; this will keep the larvae from developing.
  • Remove any standing water in the shed, make sure you have a proper drainage system so that there is no stagnant water for the horse flies to lay eggs.
  • Trim the grass and weeds as this will make conditions unfavourable for horse flies.
  • Using powerful fan in animal sheds can significantly control the entry of horse flies.
  • Use ear nets, face masks, and repellent tags on your animals. Check out these face mask with ear nets on Amazon.

Recommended ReadingEliminating House Flies

Horse Fly Bite Symptoms:

Horse fly bites are very painful. Following is a list of symptoms that can tell you if a wound is a horsefly bite or not:

  • A horsefly bite causes thick red coloured skin.
  • Pain with skin itch.
  • Signs of bacterial infections.
  • Sometimes skin continues to stay red and swollen for several days.
  • Some people may experience a body rash, may break out in hives, or develop wheezing.
  • Some people may also experience swelling around the eyes and lips.

How to Treat a Horse Fly Bite:

Treating a horsefly bite is quite important. To treat a bite follow the below steps:

wash-byte-with-soap-and-waterDisinfect the area: First of all disinfect the area by washing it thoroughly with soap and water. You could also use a alcohol or vinegar based disinfectant.

If you are outside and cannot disinfect the area at that time then cover the wound with saliva. Saliva contains Histatin protein that has healing abilities which will allow you to heal the bite till you can get indoors and treat it properly.

Cool the Area: Cooling the area with icepack or a wet cold washcloth, helps in reducing the pain.

Anti-Allergens: If the itch is getting unbearable then you could apply a hydrocortisone cream over the wound. But consult your doctor first.

Keep an eye on the Wound: Keep an eye on the wound as there is a chance that it may develop bacterial infection. And if that happens immediately visit a doctor.

So, that was it. Feel free to post any queries related to the topic in the comments section. Also I would love to know if you have any other secret methods to eliminate horse flies.

Speak Your Mind