Tabanids: Tabanus species - Horse Flies; Chrysops species – Deer Flies; Haematopota species - Clegs

The various genera and species of tabanids (horse flies, deer flies and clegs) occur around the world, including in Canada.


The various genera and species of tabanids (horse flies, deer flies and clegs) occur around the world, including in Canada.  Eggs are laid in the environment and the preferred site conditions (wet, dry etc.) vary with species.  Typical of the dipterans, the larvae pupate in the environment and the adult flies emerge.

The biting activities of tabanids cause major problems for horses, other domestic animals and people.  Tabanids slash and suck and can cause relatively large bite wounds which may continue to bleed after the flies have left.  Also, prevention of biting by tabanids is difficult because they find their hosts primarily by sight, and so insect repellents are more or less ineffective.  Tabanids also act as vectors for several helminth and protozoan parasites of domestic animals, wildlife and people.


Phylum: Arthropoda
Subphylum: Uniramia
Class: Hexapoda
Subclass: Pterygota
Order: Diptera
Family: Tabanidae

Horse flies, deer flies and clegs are related, therefore, to mosquitoes and to the other flies of importance in veterinary parasitology.

Note: Our understanding of the taxonomy of helminth, arthropod, and particularly protozoan parasites is constantly evolving. The taxonomy described in wcvmlearnaboutparasites is based on that in the seventh edition of Foundations of Parasitology by Larry S Roberts and John Janovy Jr., McGraw Hill Higher Education, Boston, 2005.


Adult Tabanids are very striking. They are large flies (some species up to approximately 15 mm in length with a wingspan of up to 30 mm), with a short, downward-pointing (in some species hanging) proboscis and obvious mouthparts. The head is wide and convex ("half moon" shaped) with large eyes which may be brightly colored.

Host range and geographic distribution

Adult female tabanids blood feed on a wide variety of mammals, including people, and occasionally on birds and reptiles. They occur around the world, including in Canada.

Life cycle

Although there are differences in life cycles in different genera and species, the basic pattern is similar. Adult female tabanids need several blood meals prior to mating and laying eggs. Mating occurs when females enter a swarm of males, and it starts in the air and finishes on the ground. Eggs are laid on plants or rocks or debris overhanging water. The newly hatched larvae move to a suitable substrate, often mud at the edge of a pond. Larvae of Tabanus prefer soil adjacent to water, those of Chrysops prefer very wet environments and those of Haematopota prefer soil. There are up to 11 larval instars, some of which may take several months before moulting to the next, and then pupation. The larvae eat small crustaceans and each other. Under ideal conditions the life cycle can be completed in four to five months.



The basic feeding (biting) pattern for the tabanids varies with genus and species. The basic pattern is diurnal, with peaks of activity around sunrise and sunset. Tabanids find moving hosts by sight and stationary hosts by sight or by olfactory clues, probably primarily carbon dioxide concentrations.

Pathology and clinical signs

Tabanids blood feed by slashing and sucking and can create relatively large wounds. The preferred sites of biting depend on the genus and species of fly. Bites by tabanids can be very painful, and will continue to bleed after the fly has left. Biting by tabanids is a major source of annoyance, and horses, cattle, sheep and other livestock can be affected, together with wildlife and people.

Tabanids can serve as vectors for Elaeophora schneideri (arterial worm) of sheep in the western US, as well as Loa loa (Calabar swellings) of people in West Africa, Dirofilaria roemeri of macropod marsupials, Leucocytozoon species of birds, Haematoproteus metchnikovi of turtles, and the harmless Trypanosoma theileri of ruminants, which occurs in domestic and free-ranging hosts in Canada. Tabanids can also serve as mechanical vectors for Anaplasma marginale, Francisella tularensis and Bacillus anthracis, as well as for Trypanosoma evansi and T. vivax of livestock in the tropics.


Tabanid bites are relatively large compared to those of other biting flies, and they may continue to bleed after the fly has left, and so, in the absence of the fly, some attempt can be made to identify the culprit.

Treatment and control

Effective control of tabanids is extremely difficult, particularly because they often locate animals by sight, and this makes prevention of biting using chemically-based means essentially ineffective. Pyrethrins, permethrins, combinations as well as products containing butoxypolypropylene glycol plus resmethrin have label claims for repelling, controlling or killing tabanids as well as other fly species in horses.


Public health significance

Tabanids can be serious pests of people as a result of their biting activity, and can also act as biological or mechanical vectors for some human pathogens.
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