Sunday, August 29, 2010

Horror of the Flies!

Since people know I work with animals they sometimes call me to deal with something that isn't, strictly speaking, a member of the zoo. People seem to equate "zoo keeper" with  "person who will touch things that I wouldn't touch with a cattle prod".

This happened yesterday when I got a call to "remove a bug that's bothering a guest". Okay, not really my job, but I was curious to see what kind of silly person couldn't remove a harmless bug themselves. And I was curious to see what the bug was. I grabbed a small jar and a net and headed off.

What I found was completely unexpected. No interesting spider. No giant centipede. No weird beetle. Just 50 MILLION FLIES, all congregated in one corner of the room near the floor. Okay, so maybe there were only hundreds of flies. But it seemed like more.

What were they doing there? The room was spotless. No food anywhere, no spilled drinks. No dead squirrels outside the window. Nothing to draw them in! And oddly, they seemed especially attracted to a coaxial cable plug. Could it be Satan?

Well, no. At least, I think there is a more parsimonious explanation. After I removed the flies I did a little research. I assumed that they were house flies, but I think they may have actually been something called cluster flies. These insects look a lot like house flies (the difference is just a few golden hairs) but their life-cycle is different. They feed on earthworms, staying out of sight in the soil most of the time, and hatch out at the end of summer. As the weather cools they tend to emerge en masse and head into structures where it's warmer, usually congregating on the interior of the sunniest wall while trying to get inside the wall. Yesterday was much, much cooler than the preceding week. It's the end of August. They were on the interior of the warmest, west-facing wall. Check, check, check. The only thing I didn't discover was what their exact range is, but I think the mystery is solved. Unless anyone else has a better explanation for me?
Thanks to google image search for the fly pictures.


  1. I always think of Amityville when I see large groups of flies!

  2. Is it also true that flies come because of rats and rats come because of chickens? A bug guy told me that once... which explains the flies in our yard and the rats our dog kills. Our neighbors have chickens.

  3. Okay, that probabaly explains the crazy person who thought she'd been 'cursed' and all the flies in the room. Always wondered about that. :-)

  4. What an interesting story! I saw your post after my interview on Sew Invigorated and decided to check out your blog which is terrific!

  5. Wow, that was way cool. I have never heard of these before. I know the feeling of having people call you anytime an animal is involved with something as I constantly get calls from people freaking out about anything animal related because they think of me as the snake guy etc. Usually I am OK with it but other times I'm like really, you called me for this?!

  6. Huh! While I do believe in occasional demonic activity, I believe far more often in a scientific explanation, even if the science isn't something we understand yet. Brava for the research on the flies!

  7. Thanks for the comments, everyone! Love reading about other people's fly experiences! Reptile Codex, glad I'm not the only one who gets those kinds of calls!


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