Attack of the Drosophila

We are under siege. Because of our abnormally hot and dry summer, western Washington State is suffering from a fierce assault from fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster). These common little pests are always annoying, but this year they are making headlines and appearing on TV news. We’ve been held hostage for weeks now, and despite our best guerrilla warfare tactics, I fear we’re losing the battle.

Side view of fruit fly

Drosophila melanogaster [Liew Weng Keong]

The flies are mounting their offensive in the kitchen, bathroom, and living room. Thank heavens they have not ventured into the bedroom! I would have to move out.

It’s not happening just to us, or course … everyone’s battling the Drosophila invasion. Inside, outside. At home, at work. Some buildings at my workplace have even required fumigation.

They swarm around me when I sit in my favorite chair in the living room. They’re attracted to the light of table lamp. I’m attracted to the light, too, dammit, and I’m tired of competing with them (and sharing my wine).

When I walk into the bathroom, Eric hears clap-clap-thump-thump as I try to smash as many flies as I can. My record is five. For some reason, we’ve found it’s easier to smack the little devils with wet hands.

Our first line of defense is the classic fruit fly trap: a rotting banana slice in a jar, topped by an inverted paper cone taped securely around the jar’s lip. The flies crawl in, but don’t know how to crawl back out. The traps are very effective, but man, we have a lot of flies … and more hatching all the time. Needless to say, we’ve removed our bananas and we take out the garbage more often.  Occasionally I pour scalding water down our drains.

Fruit fly traps have become part of our décor. I pretend this one in the bathroom is a fragrance diffuser.

A fruit fly trap on the bathroom windowsill

A fruit fly trap in the bathroom

I’m sure dinner guests would hardly notice the additional centerpiece on the dining room table.

Fruit fly trap on dining room table

A nice addition to the table

On the table next to my chair is my favorite photo of Mom  … and a fruit fly trap.

Fruit fly trap on living room lamp table

Sorry about the Drosophila, Mom

And of course, I enjoy making espresso next to the trap in the kitchen.

Fruit fly trap on kitchen counter next to espresso machine

Yes, we have no bananas

I decided to read up and learn about the enemy. In the process, I’ve actually become, well, fond of them is too strong a phrase. Of course I still kill them at every opportunity, but I do so with more respect and empathy. I even think they’re kind of cute when they see the shadow of my hand and cock their wings vertical in alarm. Before I squash them.

I assumed that these tiny flies must have a lifespan of just a few days. Wrong! They can live for weeks, some say for months under optimal conditions. And they live for sex!

WARNING: This post contains graphic subject matter that might be unsuitable for some viewers.

It takes a fruit fly larva only eight days to turn into an adult, and once mature, it thinks of little other than sex … and maybe bananas and red wine. The adolescent males will come on to anyone (“Hey, you look like Stevie Nicks!”), even flies of another species, even other males, until they learn that it’s only the female Drosophila who will fall for their ridiculous come-on lines. If she so much as smiles at him, he serenades the girl-fly by playing a song on his wings. Isn’t that cute? More sexually experienced and suave guy-flies spend less time courting—no surprise—and cut to the chase quicker. (“Hey babe, we both know why we’re here. Wanna get it on?”) And they like to prolong sex for as long as possible—up to 20 minutes. Think about that: When you’re lifespan is a scant month, that’s a long time! Meanwhile, the tarty little girl-fly is already winking her beady red eye at a cute Drosophila across the room (“You about done? I gotta go.”).

Two fruit flies mating

Mating fruit flies [TheAlphaWolf]

When the girl-fly finally drags herself home at 6:00 a.m., she takes a couple of ibuprofen and a nap, swears off of guys for the next ten days, and gets busy laying eggs, five at a time. Up to 400 of them.

We have thrown out 11 traps during this war, each containing perhaps 50 Drosophila. That’s 550 flies. If half of those are females, then we potentially have 900,000 eggs gestating around the house somewhere. Eww … How will we ever get rid of them? I hope most of the sex has happened inside the traps! Here’s some proof—see the lovely larva?

Fruit fly trap with larva

Time to throw this trap away

I don’t want to hasten winter weather, but we need a good frost to kill these critters outside. But what’s to kill them inside? Will they keep hatching and mating all winter? Gawd …

I’m glad to report that in the past two days I think I’ve seen a slight reduction in numbers. Not a single Drosophila dove into my wine last night, although a few did a courtesy fly-over. Maybe we are winning the war after all. It sure will be nice when we can have bananas again.

Fruit fly top view

Bye-bye, fruit fly [Andre Karwath]

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it




19 thoughts on “Attack of the Drosophila

  1. Connie in Hartwood

    We are having a minor infestation right now, but nothing like what you describe. You poor things!! To trap them, I put a small splash of cider vinegar in a jar, cover the jar with plastic wrap, and poke a small slit in the plastic wrap with a paring knife. The flies go in, can’t get out, and eventually drown.

    I really hope that you truly ARE seeing a decline in their numbers.

    1. D'Arcy H Post author

      Hi Connie! They do seem to be subsiding–finally! I tried red wine vinegar for bait, but “my” flies respond better to banana. I should have thought to do a side-by-side test while they were at their thickest. I hope it’s to late for that now! 🙂

  2. Karen B.

    We have had some as well! I was bombarded by the little critters when a live pomegranate split at the base in my fall table decoration. Once I dumped the fruit, thankfully the little flies left. I have found one trying to sip my wine in the evening. Dang.
    Here’s to a cold winter everywhere along the west coast!

    1. D'Arcy H Post author

      Hi Karen! You’re lucky your flies didn’t hang around and breed! I feel like I know far too much about them now. I think our plague is winding down … but they’re not totally gone yet.

  3. Cathy Lee

    Oh, D’Arcy, you made me laugh! I didn’t get fruit files so much in my part of town (a scant ten miles away from you), but I got a rat. I know it is a rat because it drags apples from my kitchen table to the living room floor and daintily peels off the skin as it eats the core. It leaves bigger droppings than a mere mouse. And I heard it loudly banging in the wall. I hope it doesn’t replicate like fruit flies 🙂

    1. D'Arcy H Post author

      A rat in the house might eat the ice cream! (Remember that one?) I think you should make it tiny clothes and make it into a pet! 🙂 Well … maybe not.

  4. Jo

    Yuk, yuk, yuuuuuuck! D’Arcy you are persistent and it’s paying off. Hope they subside soon, very soon. Jo @ Let’s Face the Music

  5. Nine Dark Moons

    the pic of the flies mating made me laugh out loud! especially b/c there’s another one that appears to be watching. ha ha ha ha ha!!! your whole post gave me a good chuckle – thank you 🙂 i am glad they are seemingly going away. my office is having a breakout too. i killed 4 yesterday that wouldn’t leave my face alone.

  6. Nine Dark Moons

    every time i swing by your blog, i scroll down to that hilarious picture of the mating fruit flies – it kills me every time! it wouldn’t be so funny if there wasn’t the 3rd one hanging upside down, checking out the scene. LOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


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