09 June, 2015

Just A Case of Blue Balls

We've had a pest here since we came to Belize. No, it's not mosquitoes, although they can be troublesome at times, but overall, 'squitos are a minor irritant - unless you're trekking off into the bush, where you could get eaten alive. Here at Casa Winjama, unless you're hanging out around our front gate, you really don't suffer much from them.

No, what I'm talking about are doctor flies. Unlicensed quacks they may be, they try to operate on you at every opportunity. Their bite is not usually painful when applied, but the swelling and itching afterwards can be damn near excruciating.

The way they approach is insidious. Usually, they fly through the area where you might be sitting or whatever, then they pause to survey their prey (you). The next step usually is for them to fly over and bump you and quickly alight somewhere nearby to see if you reacted to the bumping. If not, then you can be sure they'll zoom in for a quick bite and a blood meal. Usually, other than the initial bump, you never feel them when they actually land to begin feeding on you. It doesn't take them long either. Just a few seconds and their deed is done.

By and large, it's new arrivals to Belize who react physically, the most to doctor fly bites, the swelling can be quite intense. We had been here for a week or two when I got a bite on my right forearm in the afternoon. By that evening, we had to head up to the hospital, as my forearm had swollen such that I thought the skin was going to burst.

Antibiotics and antihistamines later, and with an injection in the butt cheek, the swelling began to go down. It seems that as you stay here and receive a few more bites, you develop an immunity of sorts - at least for the swelling.

The itching bit never seems to become less. You just become more likely to apply Preparation H to the bite. Yes, that's right, Preparation H, the hemorrhoid ointment or cream. It really does work. Everyone has at least one tube around the house. Many times, you'll be out somewhere and get a bite, and somebody in your group will whip out a tube of Preparation H that they conveniently had stashed in their purse or bag.

So, cutting to the chase, we're bothered by these little pests. They don't seem to be affected in the least by the malathion spray, that is broadcast now and then to combat mosquitoes. They do seem to be somewhat cyclical. That is, they'll be around for a week or so, then no sightings for the next week or two, then they're back again.

No one seems to know if they have any natural predators, at least none of us knows if they do. We do know that ants really prize them when they're dead. After we swat them twice (you have to make sure they are dead. They're ability to shake off a good swat is phenomenal. When their carcass lands on the ground, in no time a all they are surrounded by ants who really work diligently to haul them back to the nest. It's kind of fun to watch them work at it.

OK, so we're bothered by them, but until recently, there seemed to be no way to combat the little pests. That is, until I happened to read a posting by Wilma Lingle on the South Englishtown Gazette (, about a solution she and Dennis had found.

By the way, the South Englishtown Gazette is an excellent read in it's own right. I highly recommend as a very worthwhile read.

Enough with the plug. Back to our regularly scheduled programming. Talk about having doctor flies. We have no right to complain about our doctor flies. They have doctor flies down in the Toledo area on the Monkey River. Holy cow!

Well, if you look at the photo of Dennis holding up one ball with around 1,600 doctor flies on it, that should convince you that they're on to something.
Dennis Okane-Proving They work. (Photo by Wilma Lingle)
Thanks to Wilma for letting me use the above photo.

Where we might talk about killing four or five of them in a day, Wilma and Dennis talk about killing four or five thousand in a day. My God. How can they do anything out of doors down there? One wonders.

Well, they have found a solution. Getting blue balls. No, it's not what immediately comes to mind (although I did look it up and found, somewhat belatedly in life, that 'blue balls' is an actual medical condition - look it up on Wikipedia ( What it is, in this case, is obtaining blue beach balls and hanging them around the place.
Big Blue Ball Hanging in the Patio Palapa
It seems that doctor flies are attracted to the color blue. If you get the blue beach balls, you can coat them with the same type of sticky adhesive used in bug traps, and I would assume, fly paper traps, hang the beach balls in likely areas, and stand by while the doctor flies become attracted to the blue balls and get themselves mired in the adhesive. Somewhat like Brer Rabbit and the tar baby story.

Wilma and Dennis have been in contact with a university professor, who was investigating doctor flies, also called yellow flies in Florida. He was the one who discovered they like the color blue and came up with the beach ball method.

Wilma and Dennis ordered several 24" beach balls, and gallons of the adhesive (they buy it 4 gallons at a time), and commenced their attack. Wilma made a posting on the South Englishtown Gazette, which caught my eye as possibly the only defense against these critters.

Last month we ordered our own supply of beach balls (we ordered the 16" size blue balls), from Beach ( and a couple spray cans of the adhesive from Bio Control Network ( We were still somewhat skeptical about the efficacy of the treatment.
Blue Beach Balls - We Bought Six of 'Em
But then again, refer back to the photo of Dennis with 1,600 of the buggers, just to restore your faith in the process.

I inflated several of the balls we ordered, and hung them in, hopefully, strategic areas - our patio palapa, by the pool, the entrance to the pool house, our front breezeway, and the front porch.
Another Big Blue Ball Hanging From Awning Frame
A Big Blue Ball Hanging Adjacent to Pool House Big Doors
After hanging each one, I then sprayed the ball liberally with the adhesive. Remember to stand up-wind while doing the spraying. Overspray drifts quite a bit, and I got some in my beard and mustache, and on the floor of the front porch.
Bug-Trap Glue - Just the Thing For Blue Balls
Overall, it was a pretty easy process. Now, all we have to do is sit back and wait for the little buggers to discover these fancy blue balls.
A Big Blue Ball Hanging in Front Breezeway
Unfortunately, as of sundown yesterday, we hadn't been able to attract a single doctor fly. We're hopeful that will change soon. Although our numbers, even under ideal circumstances, will be significantly less than those of Wilma and Dennis.
Big Blue Ball Hanging inside Front Porch
A great day for us might be a total of eight to ten combined from all our balls. Hell, I'd be happy with five, even with one.

We've got one more ball to hang. It'll probably go on the back porch. Gonna have to go out soon and check our trap-line. Geez, it sounds like we live in the wilds of Alaska or something.

Late Breaking News...

Dateline, 08 June, 2015 Corozal - First two doctor flies captured with exotic 'Blue Balls' method of entrapment. "Expense justified," says Director of Maintenance.
Our First Two Doctor Flies - Stuck But Good!
And Finally, Some Late, Late Breaking News...

Dennis added by email that he forgot to let me know of their remedy for Dr. Fly bites. With the numbers they're talking about, they should know the best treatment.

When the Dr. Fly bites, "we spray on Stop Pain which contains 8% menthol.  It works pretty quickly to stop the itch of the bites. Later on Wilma noticed that if she then used hydrocortisone ointment on the bite, it seemed to reactivate the Stop Pain." He said if Stop Pain isn't available locally, you can get it on, and have it shipped down.

Dennis said the best  name for the Yellow/Red/Dr. fly he ever heard was from David Santilli, who lives down further south in Punta Negra: "Spawn of Satan"!


Anonymous said...

Good to see that the Northern Belize Dr. Flies are also attracted to the glue balls. We actually use a mix of black and blue balls, hard to say which color is more effective.

The history behind the balls use in Monkey River is a little bit different. Chris Harris (Steppingstones Retreat) first told me about these horrible flies. I found information about them on the internet and learned about the balls, and promptly forgot. Phil Jones, who was house sitting for Chris during a particularly bad Dr. Fly season, independently found the glue ball information online and told me about them. So credit to Phil for overcoming the inertia and getting the project started in the summer of 2013.

The balls also capture other insect pests we found, most notably Flood Flies after the first major rainfall. They covered the balls and I now have to re-coat the balls since there is no available space for more Dr. Flies.

Best wishes, hope you catch many more!


Dave Rider said...

Hi Dennis,

Uh oh, a new bug, 'flood flies.' That one hasn't been mentioned here before that I know of. Something else to look forward to. Thanks Dennis, for this tidbit and the history. We'll keep an eye peeled for them.


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