Finish your sandwich before reading fly facts

By Sandra Mason

Where there are people, there are flies. It's not so much that they love us. They love all the stuff that goes with us such as garbage, food and grass clippings. To be fair, not all flies are bad neighbors. Some are beneficial to us since they are predators and parasitoids of pest insects.

For instance, robber flies are predators often found hanging out on flowering plants. As lions hanging out at the watering hole waiting for a slow wildebeest, robber flies wait to abduct a tasty insect attracted to the flowers. Robber flies are impressive with their long legs, compared to their body size, large bulging eyes and a triangular face. Robber fly larvae also are beneficial since they feed on soil grubs or grasshopper eggs.

Pest flies are hard to forget, such as the ubiquitous housefly, easily identified by their gray color and four black lines on their back. Flies are not particular where they hang out. Houseflies love pretty much any kind of rotting organic stuff, such as dead animals, food garbage or excrement. They particularly love horse manure, even more than stable flies.

Now for the gross alert. If you are eating right now, consider yourself warned that I will delve into gross-but-true information. You may want to finish your meal before continuing. Or you may want to call in a kid and read it to them. They love gross stuff.

The female house fly lays her eggs on rotting organic stuff. Each female can lay up to 600 eggs. Within 12 to 24 hours, the eggs develop into white legless maggots. If the right conditions exist, the maggots become flies in as little as two weeks. That's a lot of flies in a very short period of time. Have your gross-loving kid do the math for a year's worth of flies.

If house flies kept to garbage, they would be a nuisance for sure, but these flies go a little further on the gross meter. Housefly mouthparts work like a sponge; therefore, they require liquid food. When they find something yummy that is not liquid, such as your sandwich, they don't let it stop them. They regurgitate their saliva on the food then proceed to use their sponge to soak up a meal. Unfortunately, their saliva contains remnants of their last meal, which may have been at the local horse barn, garbage can or roadkill. This is your cue to yell GROSS. Houseflies have been linked to spreading all kinds of nasty diseases.

Stable flies have a name they don't deserve. It doesn't describe their psychological state, as far as I know, and they aren't found only in stables. Stable flies are one of the biting flies that love your tasty ankles. The maggots live in rotting vegetation, such as grass clippings.

Deer flies also bite any warm body that moves. Why does their bite hurt so much? Imagine mosquito mouthparts as a hypodermic needle and biting fly mouthparts as a giant dagger. Deer flies are a little bigger than houseflies but with dark markings on their clear wings, usually noticed as you do the scream and squash. Deer flies find human heads particularly and obstinately appealing. I have had to run down hiking trails to get away from them. On trails, they always seem to attack the first person in the line. Sometimes it pays to be last.

Sanitation is key in reducing fly populations. With all the recent rains, there is plenty of decaying vegetation so control can be difficult. Insect repellents, long-sleeved shirts, long pants and a hat can help to keep the biters away. They bring a whole new meaning to shoo fly.

Sandra Mason is unit educator, horticulture and environment, for the UI Extension, Champaign County. Contact her with questions or comments at 801 N. Country Fair Drive, Champaign, IL 61821, call 333-7672, email slmason@illinois.edu or fax 333-7683.

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