The Fly Swatter

SWATTING FLIES may be a reflexive reaction to being pestered, as when bothered cattle swish their tails. Ancient Egyptian Pharaohs are usually depicted next to a high court official carrying a fly whisk. Whether nature or nurture, it is a strange news week indeed when PBS’s McLaughlin Group airs two video clips (White House Fly Swatting & PETA Protest) and discusses FLY CONTROL.

Democrat Lawrence O’Donnell said: “I completely support the president in this particular engagement.” Conservative commentator Monica Crowley opined: “The Dalai Lama would have patiently abided the fly.” Newsweek commentator Eleanor Clift acknowledged the human swatting instinct and liked PETA’s suction FLY TRAP but said: “I do have trouble killing a fly in my house. I generally open the door, try to let him out, and others come in.” Former independent presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan had the last laugh: “When you and I were kids, our parents used to UNROLL THAT FLY PAPER and all the flies stuck to it, and then you took it out and put it in the garbage.”

Real world fly control is a numbers game.  Catch (or trap) and release works better for trout in a mountain stream than for nuisance flies. What if the Prez had captured the nuisance fly and patiently taken it to the park across the street from the White House, and released it on a fresh pat of dog doo with full Secret Service protection from the environment and natural enemies?  The famous biologist Antony van Leeuwenhoek calculated that one female fly could produce 750,000 progeny in 3 months if unchecked by the environment and natural enemies (including man).

Another entomologist calculated that one female fly could beget 250 thousand billion offspring in a year. That could promote full employment by supporting a large fulltime army armed with fly swatters or catch-and-release suction traps (take your pick). DDT and pesticides were once widely seen as the remedy, but any organism reproducing as rapidly as nuisance flies becomes rapidly resistant to pesticides. Which is why Rincon-Vitova and others in the natural fly control biz usually recommend an IPM (Integrated Pest Management) approach combining remedies like traps, sticky tape and natural enemies. Entomologists like Fred Legner of the University of California, Riverside, decades ago searched nuisance fly homelands (e.g. Africa) for natural enemies and pioneered biocontrol with Spalangia and Muscidifurax species.

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