My dear ol’ grandmother was a wise woman and was always looking for something to keep me out of her hair for awhile. Go hoe the weeds in the garden, go gather the eggs in the hen house, or grab a paper sack and go down through the woods and gather some greens for supper tonight.
One of her favorite things, however, was to hand me the fly swatter and send me out on the back porch to kill a few hundred houseflies. I was a fly-swatting fool in my younger days. She always said that one day the flies were going to take over the world.
“Houseflies have been bugging us long before we even had houses,” she said. “In fact they have lived more comfortably with us than we have with them.”
Grandma quoted the Bible quite often, hoping to make a decent young man out of me someday and went on to say, “In the Old Testament, even God considered flies annoying, and once they even inflicted a plague upon Egypt.”
As the Bible tells it, “There came great swarms of flies into the house of Pharaoh, and into his servants’ houses, and in all the land of Egypt, the land was ruined by reason of the fly. The homes of Moses and his people, however, remained unmolested.”
Since the beginning of communal life, these pesky creatures have attended our migrations, crazed our beasts of burden and invaded our food. The common housefly flourishes only in close association with human society, breeding rapidly in animal and human wastes and in rotting vegetable matter. The insect speeds from egg to maturity in about two weeks. It survives from subpolar regions to the tropics by being adaptable, omnivorous, explorative and prolific.
Grandma quoted an old English rhyme, “Kill a fly in May, you kept thousands away.” And apparently that observation is borne out of research, which claims that a single female, laying her first 120 eggs in the spring, commonly in April, could number by the first week in September some 325 trillion, 923 billion, 200 million descendants, give or take a handful.
Researchers watched a chunk of horse manure about 6 inches square hatch 4,042 flies. Luckily for us, nature prevents the survival of many of these offspring.
Even though my sister Margie found the housefly charming, admiring its catlike habit of washing itself, she also was pretty good at swatting them too. The fly has long been suspected of spreading disease, from the plague to dysentery, typhoid, cholera, salmonella, tuberculosis, and even leprosy as they flitter from sewage to our table sauce.
Surprisingly, however, the fly has also been the healer of disease. World War I doctors noticed that “flyblown” wounds often healed quickly, and some particularly resistant infections came to be treated successfully with sterile housefly maggots. Thank goodness they’ve found a better treatment today.
Through the ages we have tried to swat, squash, fry, trap and poison the housefly without much luck. The annoying buzzing varmints have even withstood such insecticides as DDT by evolving a resistance to them. To date the most effective widespread control of the common housefly has been won by modern sanitation and by the automobile. If you think about it, the automobile evicted the horse from the city streets and urban life. Just think! If we had as many horses on the road today as we have automobiles, how many flies would flourish in the manure? But fear not, you can rest assured that the fly population is still alive and well, buzzing in your ear, crawling on your nose and dropping into your raisin pudding.
To reach Ted W. Stillwell send e-mail to<Ted@blueandgrey.com> call him at 816-896-3592.