No flies on me!

Last updated 13:48 08/02/2013

Much of the time, I like to wax poetic about the myriad creatures I love, whether they are cute (like New Zealand sea lions), fierce (like sharks) or downright bizarre (like freshwater invertebrates).  But this summer I can confess to one nemesis... FLIES!

As you know, the bloke and I now reside in a rural environment, we are enjoying a wonderful summer of a bountiful garden, baby guineafowl, plentiful eggs from the chooks, bees in the beehive and the tranquility and peace of life in the country. 

Except, of course, we have been invaded by flies. Mostly these take the form of houseflies, dithering slowly in circles around the lounge in the middle of the room, sicking up their little fly spots on all the places I can't reach around the house and generally just irritating me with their mere omnipresence.  The bloke is just glad we don't have cluster flies.

house flies

The omnipresent houseflies are making it hard for me to love all creatures great and small.

Occasionally blowflies blunder into the house, sounding (to me) like an Iroquois chopper has just entered the room, smashing themselves noisily into the windows until I get up and let them out.  Flies can get my blood boiling in a matter of mere seconds.

But I must confess. I am as it turns out, a fly hypocrite.

I am rather selective in my love or hate for invertebrates as my geneticist friend and insect afficianado David Winter has pointed out, since yesterday's story about glowworms was ALSO about flies... But I like those ones, because, well because they glow. (I know, a totally shallow approach to my fly preferences).

Let's narrow 'flies' down to the order of diptera, or two-winged flies. Other flying insects (think dragonflies, butterflies etc) are not 'true flies' as it turns out at all, but falsely advertising their fly status. Not all dipterans fly - the bizarre bat fly that only lives on New Zealand's short-tailed bats for example, cannot fly at all and should perhaps be called a 'walk'.

Bat fly (photo: Giles St Martin)

Bat flies don't fly at all but 'swim' through the fur of the short-tailed bat.  (Photo:  Gilles San Martin
CC 2.0 )

There are thought to be over 120 000 species of true flies on the planet, more than all the species of vertebrates combined.  Most of the dipteran flies have two wings, with a tiny structure behind each wing called 'halteres'. These are in fact a reduced form of wing and are club-shaped and act like a tiny gyroscope, allowing the flies to carry out their feats of maneuverability that they are well known for (by anyone attempting to chase them with a rolled-up newspaper).

Perhaps the most irritating thing for me about flies are their digestive habits.  Houseflies vomit up saliva and other juices onto potential food in order to soften it and then sponge it up with their proboscis. Those little brown spots you find around your house are tell-tale signs that houseflies have been dining out in your home.  They are easy enough to wipe off, and should be, since flies do harbour a range of diseases and bacteria. However, overall, despite their annoying habits, without flies we might be in trouble.  Flies have an enormous ecological role to play in breaking down decaying and rotting material, pollinating some plants, and providing food for a wide range of animals.

The bloke is not keen on me turning the house into a chemical hazard zone by spraying fly spray all the time, so for now, I attempt to keep the fly visits to a minimum by keeping doors and windows open (so they can fly out again quickly), covering all food, and feeding my little venus fly trap on the kitchen windowsill. Circle of life and all that.

Venus fly trap (photo: Nicola Toki)

Are flies driving you bonkers? Seen any that are unusual this summer? Do you often stop to think about how useful they might be?

Please feel free to email me to send me your questions, feedback, ideas or photographs for In Our Nature blog posts. You can also join the In Our Nature Facebook page.

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