Horse Fly Harassment and the Social Behavior of Feral Ponies


Department of Biology, P.O. Box 243, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York 12601 U.S.A.


Horse flies (Tabanidae) on and around feral ponies in harem groups were counted at Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland, U.S.A., between June and August 1985. Harem stallions attracted the most flies; adult mares showed intermediate fly numbers, while few flies landed on foals under any circumstances. The use of thermal and chemical cues by flies selecting a host may have helped create this disparity. When flies were abundant, ponies reduced spacing within the group. Ponies in larger groups suffered from fewer flies than ponies in smaller groups. There was, however, no evidence that ponies merged into larger groups in response to fly harassment, suggesting that biting flies play little role in structuring pony social organization.