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Long live the black fly!

Around the house, in Montreal, or even in the Saint-Sulpice woodlot next door, nothing to fear from this little plague; it is more likely that you’ll see there the coyote rather than the black fly. But yesterday, leaving my cottage by the Mount trail, arms loaded, I had to look like those saints of the Church with a halo around the head. A swarm of little black flies seemed to be magnetized by this succulent piece of resistance. Could not the Mohawks have been content with it for the torture of our Holy Canadian Martyrs? Nothing like it in the city or in Saint-Jérôme. What did you do with your black flies; did I ask the family of Saint-Colomban two days before? Yet we were on the deck of the house, on the edge of the woods.

It may not have been ten years since I wondered about the fact that my windshield was never stained by some crushed bugs when I came into or out of the Laurentians. I am neither an entomologist nor a biologist, and I could not give any explanation. When I was a teenager, say at the end of the 1950s, my father's car windshield was covered with crushed flying insects, flies of all kinds, butterflies and whatever, at the least car ride in the country.  Relatives confirmed to me that this was the case.

In fact it was so and elsewhere on the planet, that the term "windshield phenomenon" appeared in the realm of science. Given the lack of statistical data, some would have even tried to measure the opacity of the layer of crushed insects on the windshields to possibly assess the evolution of the problem; a kind of windshield protocol...

An important study, or rather a synthesis of the researches listed on the subject, would have been produced in Europe, in 2017, and another in Australia, to identify the magnitude, probable causes and consequences of what would prove to be a phenomenal decrease of several categories of these insects. There is even talk of the most important episode of extinction since the disappearance of the dinosaurs. But we could not have established a direct correlation between one or the other cause and the phenomenon. In fact it seems that insects have not been the favorite of researchers in the past. And the crawling insects, like the aquatic species, are not spared by this fall of population. 

In 1875, an invasion of billions of Rocky Mountain Locust took a week to cross Plattsmouth, Nebraska. A few decades later, following the development of large-scale farming and livestock production, the last of their extinct species were seen in the Canadian prairie. National Geographic.

Highly sensitive to pesticides, ephemera or manna, an aquatic species, are endangered in certain regions of Quebec. And when did you see your last grasshopper, your last bumble bee or even your last butterfly? Éphémères

We will list here the possible causes, identified or pointed at by the researchers, that we have noted:

-  Habitat and the environment (The conversion of plains to agricultural land, urbanization, deforestation, drying up of wetlands, invasive insects species and parasites, bacteria or fungi, fighting fires and perhaps forest management, light pollution, etc.)

-  Biodiversity loss, agricultural practices, pesticides and herbicides: Some insects feed on specific plant elements; however monoculture has considerably reduced the number of plants in huge territories. These insects are gone with the plants associated with them. : Karner Blue. 

A researcher, Henri Goulet, who spent 50 years studying insects for Agriculture Canada, says that non-flying insects suffered the same fate as the flying ones. « Entire species of beetles that he used to study no longer exist at the Central Experiment Farm, he says, and he believes the change came as Ontario farmers shifted to growing more corn. Goulet blames the herbicides sprayed on cornfields in spring, before the seed is planted. … (But) some places seem protected. Pinery Provincial Park west of London, Ont., is beside Lake Huron, and it seems to resist the disappearing-insect trend. One theory is that the prevailing west winds come a long way across the lake and are cleansed of pesticides.» Ottawa Citizen.

Bumblebees and bees are more present in our minds. Some pesticides used in fields or orchards seem to be the cause of their decline; at least in Europe, where the main studies cited have been made: Radio Canada international.

-  The car: Some have wondered if the road and the cars, which killed millions of flying insects in Illinois as elsewhere, would not have decimated the populations of these insects. Canadian geographic.

-  Climate change (extreme temperatures, droughts, etc.) is mentioned as a potential cause. But it can also favor certain species, such as the Eastern hemlock looper, which would have benefited from milder winters to increase its area of expansion in Quebec. Société d'entomologie du Québec

Consequences :
-  In agriculture or beekeeping: Pollination of crops reduced and fall of honey production.
-  Disappearance of bird and mammal species that feed on flying insects, such as swallows and bats, etc.

From Montreal to James Bay by car, when it's the season of insects, the phenomenon of the windshield still exists, assures me a friend who stayed there recently. And it is not with a passage in a simple car wash that you will manage to take the junk off. Neighbors in Montreal also tell me that they still harvest insects in this way by going either to the Eastern Townships or to Saint-Michel-des-Saints, high in Lanaudière, or Ville-Marie, in the Témiscamingue; but in less quantity than formerly all the same. In addition, while telling me that there are black flies on the Val-d'Or, Abitibi, golf course this week and that they are tearing you off pieces of skin, I am assured that windshields are certainly harvesting flies by going from Val-d'Or to Ville-Marie.

So, if the phenomenon still exists in areas where obviously the forest reigns or predominates, it may be necessary to establish quantitative mapping throughout Quebec, with the windshield protocol for lack of other instruments. One could thus appreciate the situation, see the future evolution of the phenomenon, if it still exists, and help discern between the causes invoked in Europe and elsewhere.

The black fly is therefore a sign of a still natural environment; for our happiness to all ... The forest workers would cover themselves with oil and get used to it. (But tell me when their cycle is over, a Montrealer can survive pollution, not black flies!)

Without prejudice, by Carl Chapdelaine

Bye-bye, bug splatter: Is this the new silent spring? : David Suzuki

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