Deer keds a nuisance
My buddy Dave shot a deer this past bow season and was skinning it when I stopped by. Be careful about any ticks,” I told him. Dave had the hide just about off and told me there seemed to be quite a few until a neighbor stopped by and said what he was looking at weren’t engorged deer ticks but pupae of an invasive fly called a ked. It was news to both of us.
These pupae appeared to be the color and size of deer droppings. According to information put out by the Penn State Extention deer keds are frequently mistaken by hunters as ticks. Keds may superficially resemble ticks but keds are typically larger, highly mobile, and are found on the deer’s belly. Ticks, on the other hand, are attached to the skin, do not move around much, and are usually found about the head and neck of whatever animal they inhabit. Since I didn’t know much about this pest I decided to investigate a little further.
It seems deer keds are an invasive species of biting flies and were originally found in Europe, Siberia, and Northern China. In Europe and the Far East keds are parasitic on red deer, roe, elk, and sika deer. Here in North America, they can be found on whitetail deer, elk, horses, cattle, and humans. If a human is bitten by a ked it takes about 15 to 25 minutes for a ked to become engorged on blood. What’s diabolic about the bite is that it is barely noticeable and leaves little trace at first. However, within three days the victim may notice a hard, reddened welt at the site. An intense accompanying itch may last 14 to 20 days. Several tick-borne pathogens have been detected in deer keds, including the bacteria that cause Lyme disease, cat scratch fever, and anaplasmosis. Currently, it’s unknown whether they can be transmitted through the insect’s bite.
Keds seem to be the fly from hell because winged adult deer keds fly about in early autumn and even into early December searching for a deer. When one is encountered, the fly alights on the host and begins to burrow through the fur At this time the wings are shed and the flies take a blood meal, mate, and later the female produces a mature larva which will begin to pupate. After birthing, the female will again feed, mate and produce another larva. It is unclear how many larvae are produced per female. These pupae are what I saw littering the floor of my friend’s garage.
According to scientists at Penn State University, keds will not reproduce on any host other than deer at least here in New York, and because most venison is hung in coolers or outside during cold weather the keds will not be able to move about. After their removal, hides can be placed in plastic trash bags, and frozen, after which the keds can then be shaken off.
Just like my friend Dave, deer hunters are most likely to come into contact with deer keds as they process the deer they kill. “Deer keds can run up your arm while you’re field dressing a deer and bite you,” said Michael Skvarla, extension educator and director of the Insect Identification Lab in the Department of Entomology at Penn State.” Wearing long, elbow-length plastic gloves while skinning a deer will help deter any keds from biting.
Currently there is no evidence that keds cause venison from the deer to be unsafe for human consumption.