It’s a part of life almost everywhere at the Jersey Shore this time of year, whether you’re fishing at the bay, birdwatching in the marshes or trying to soak up the sun at the beach. Despite what you may have heard — or tried — there’s nothing that can keep the greenheads at bay.
More on that — and eight other things you may not have known about N.J.’s unofficial mascot — below.
Photo provided by John Stoffolano, University of Massachusetts Amherst
1. Is it just a Jersey thing?
Jersey isn’t the only unfortunate place to be blessed by the greenhead. They’re found everywhere from Nova Scotia to Texas — anywhere that has the coastal grasses that are prime spots for reproduction.
One can argue that July is really the start of beach season. The temperatures soar during the day and the nights are hot and humid.
Beachgoers love it and so do the greenheads.
“Insect development — especially anything that would rely on some sort of hotter, warmer weather — that’s when everything sort of peaks,” said Kyle Rossner, an entomologist at the Cape May County Department of Mosquito Control.
Greenhead season begins late June and runs through early August, with July being the worst month.
“This greenhead seems to be a resident of more saline-like salt marsh areas, so that’s why when you're at the shore — especially the barrier islands or
the bay shore — you seem to be a favorite among them,” said Rossner.
A horse is covered to protect from biting insects as two men harvest salt hay in Atlantic County during the early 1900s. (Photo provided by the Atlantic County Historical Society)
2. How long have they been here?
Around the 1860s, the greenheads were so bad in Atlantic City that the shoobies, who traveled in by train, turned around and got right back on, said Atlantic County Historical Society volunteer Norman Goos, recalling a story he read.
“Not only did the people get back on the trains to go home, but the animals were driven crazy,” said Goos. “Blood was running down their sides.”
But Goos believes people battled greenheads way before then. Between 1725 and 1775, families began buying property on the mainland for farming, raising cattle and fishing.
“They complained about them being on the marshes,” said Goos.
And that’s where they’ve stayed. Because their habitat is fairly protected, there’s not much of a threat to their population, said Peter Bosak, superintendent of the Cape May County Mosquito Control. And the dose level of spray used to control mosquitoes has no effect on them.
And the greenheads have only gotten smarter.
A greenhead fly caught on Brigantine beach, Tuesday, July 3, 2018. (Tim Hawk