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.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.
I’m sure dinner guests would hardly notice the additional centerpiece on the dining room table.
On the table next to my chair is my favorite photo of Mom … and a fruit fly trap.
And of course, I enjoy making espresso next to the trap in the kitchen.
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.”).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?
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.