The awful truth of Bugs in the UP: Biting black and stable flies

 The awful truth of Bugs in the UP: Biting black and stable flies

In the summer, there are a lot of bugs in the UP! All that beauty comes with a cost. Summer is Biting black and stable flies season. I had no idea there were two distinct species tormenting folks up there until our visit.

Bugs in the UP can be terrible!

Technically, we're talking about two kinds of biting flies. The mosquitoes are pretty bad at times, too. But in this post we're talking about flies.

Black flies are small, dark flies with a humped back that can give a painful bite. Unlike a mosquito (which sucks up blood through a proboscis), black flies slash the skin and lap up the pooled blood.

Stable flies have dark stripes on their back and a checkerboard-like pattern on the top of their abdomen. A distinguishing feature of the stable fly, visible to the naked eye, is the distinct stiletto-like proboscis of the stable fly which extends forward beyond the head. This sharply pointed beak is used to pierce the skin and draw blood.

The meanest of the Bugs in the UP – Biting black and stable flies

I really can't tell you which is which, or which is worse. In my book, these two biting bugs in the UP are equally evil.  And during our early July visit to the Lake Superior shoreline, we found them everywhere – on the beach, in the woods, at the campground. Inside my RV.

They would be there one day in hordes. The next day, which weather-and-wind-wise seemed just the same, they were no problem.

Go figure. Bugs in the UP are unpredictable.

Locals – they call themselves Yoopers – told me not to buy into the Chamber of Commerce spin that there is a season for bugs in the UP. It's all summer long, they say, from the first frost-free days in May through the first freeze in October.

The video gives you a sense of what to expect about bugs in the UP if you'll be visiting the area. If camping, get some fly traps or fly strips. That seems to catch a few hundred every day. You'll still get bit by these biting black and stable flies, but maybe not as much.

Tips to avoid biting black and stable flies tips and bugs in the UP :

Wear light-colored clothing

Wear long pants or jeans (they tend to bite the most below the knees, especially around the ankles)

Protect your pets (they bite dogs, too)

Use an insect repellent like Bugzilla intended for biting flies.

The video shows what bugs in the UP season, aka summer, is like up there.


Want to read more about Michigan?

Off the Beaten Path: Old Asylum in Michigan

Here's a little bit of that post:

It’s a chilly autumn night with a mist of rain falling on rustling dying leaves as the tour guide opens a creaky metal door that seems out of place in the middle of what appears to be an insignificant patch of grass.

Holding our flashlights, we enter with a group of 18 others.

The tour guide’s assistant bangs the door shut behind us and with that, we are at the top of a stairway leading to a series of underground tunnels built in 1883.

The brick-lined tunnels are under the former Traverse City State Hospital, located in the northwest part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula (a relatively short distance from Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, see map at bottom of story). 


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Mike Wendland

Mike Wendland is a veteran journalist who, with his wife, Jennifer, travels North America in a small motorhome, blogging about the people, places, joys and adventure of RV life on the road at He and Jennifer also host the weekly RV Podcast and do twice-weekly videos on the YouTube RV Lifestyle Channel. They have written 10 books on RV travel.


  • Great video, Mike. Megan and I will be hitting the UP in the 3rd week of August as we start our Journey out West. Hopefully the flies aren’t that bad!

  • Geat job with the blackflies! I do hope you were able to enjoy your stay amongst the flies! Thanks for visiting us. Sheila

  • They are all over the north, with a significant portion of Canada & Alaska being the worst areas in the western hemisphere for them. Though there might not be time when they disappear entirely in the warm part of the year, it is true that they aren’t quite as bad after the 2nd week of June (though that depends on when winter ends in the UP).
    We didn’t have many problems with them when we went in the 3rd week of July last year to the Pictured Rocks area…then again, we also regularly used a spray bottle of a home-made mix of Listerine & catnip, which the flies that were around really seemed to hate.

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