Nairobi Fly or Narrow Bee Fly? This is the Correct Name

January 31, 2020

For decades, that colourful insect that causes an itchy sensation and blisters when brushed or crushed against the skin has been referred to as the ‘Nairobi fly‘.

However, the last 3 or so years have seen a lot of confusion online, as some blogs and social media users ‘corrected’ this term and told us that the actual term is actually ‘Narrow bee fly’.

It started with the famous social media posts a few years ago which ask people people how old they were when they found out something. They go something like, ”I was today years old when I found out that..”

Needless to say, most of these ‘facts’ are bogus. And this is the case here too.

To start off, the Nairobi fly is the East African name for a ‘rove beetle’. It also goes by several other names including spider-lick and whiplash dermatitis.

It’s full local name is actually Nairobi fly dermatitis.

This we know from decades of word of mouth, and from multiple scientific papers and news reports over the years.

Here are a few instances.

This 1993 paper by the Royal Army Medical College refers to the insect as the ‘Nairobi fly’.

This 1998 paper by the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre Eye Department, refers to as ‘Nairobi fly’.

– This 1998 CNN archive article refers to it as ‘Nairobi fly’. –  ‘Nairobi fly’ doesn’t sting or bite, but it sure does hurt

This 2002 paper by Mamoun Al-Basheer, MBBS, FRCSE, about an outbreak in Eritrea refers to it as ‘Nairobi fly’. ”The disease is provoked by an insect belonging to the genus Pederus. This beetle, known in East Africa as Nairobi Fly, does not bite or sting, but accidental brushing against or crushing the beetle over the skin provokes the release of its coelomic fluid, which contains pederin, a potent vesicant agent,” he writes.

– Authors Jean L. Bolognia MD, Joseph L. Jorizzo MD, and Ronald P. Rapini MD refer to it as ‘Nairobi fly’ in their acclaimed book Dermatologia: 2-Volume.

I think they would know; after all they are dermatologists.


– The division of global health researchers in Massachusetts referred to it as Nairobi fly, in this 2012 paper.

– The Genetic Literacy Project refers to it as the rove beetle, and acknowledges its other regional names, including ‘Nairobi fly’.


This 2005 paper by several researchers at the Cambridge University Press referred to it as, you guessed it, ‘Nairobi fly’.

This 2010 paper in the South African Medical Journal also refers to it as ‘Nairobi fly’.


Indeed, if you perform a search on, you will find hundreds of instances that the irritating beetle has been referred to as such.

Try searching for ‘Narrow bee fly’ on the same scholarly site, and you will go blank.

Try it on the main Google site and you will find all manner of fake blogs and social media posts telling you otherwise.

Right out of the gate, everything is wrong with the term ‘Narrow bee fly’.

For one, the insect is not a bee. Which makes absolutely no sense that someone would call it that. And indeed, it was only called that a few years ago by someone on the internet.

So, next time anyone ‘corrects’ you and tells you it’s called a ‘Narrow bee fly’, tell them they are WRONG.

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