September 2014
The Magic of Gardening

Controlling Those Dang Flies

If you ever watched the movie "The Fly," you know you should "be afraid - be very afraid," which is the most famous quote originating from that movie. However, the common house fly, Musca domestica, has been buzzing around homes pestering people since Adam built the first house – hence the name "domestica." Maybe fear is not the correct response but concern is appropriate. In addition to being a great nuisance, they can carry disease-causing pathogens as they land on your potato salad at your tailgate party.

To understand control, you need to know a little about their life cycle. House flies develop through four stages: egg, larvae, pupa and adult fly. They prefer to eat and lay eggs in animal waste and other decaying organic matter. A female fly can lay up to 500 eggs in batches of 75-100 eggs each. Eggs hatch in a day or two, depending on environmental conditions, mostly temperature. Larvae (sounds better than maggots) feed and develop on any moist organic matter. Before they mature to pupate, maggots crawl away from their food source to a cool and dry place to undergo this transformation.

The adult flies later emerge from the pupa and fly away in search of food and suitable egg-laying sites to start the whole process over. Flies have a sponge-like mouth that absorbs nutrients from moist organic matter. Our food can be contaminated by flies as they regurgitate digestive juices and drink it up. An adult fly can live for two to four weeks.

For most effective control, target the larval stage by eliminating the moist, exposed organic matter (particularly animal feces and rotting food) in and around your home where they feed and develop. Garbage should be kept in sealed bags inside of covered garbage cans. Garbage cans should be located as far away from your home as possible. Place animal food away from entry points of your home and only place the amount of food needed for a short period of time into their food dishes.

If only a few flies are buzzing inside your home, the old-fashioned fly swatter still works well. Mr. Miyagi’s method of using chop sticks in the Karate Kid movie is a little inefficient, but I have to admit when I was a kid my brother and I would try to catch them in our hand. We would pretend we had caught one and then act like we were eating it to gross out little girls. I am not sure why I am telling you that but I want to assure you I no longer do this … very often. Well, maybe a couple times to my daughters when they were young, but that’s all.

Don’t forget to check for entry points. Sealing holes and cracks around windows, doors and roof eaves are good for reducing your power bill, but has an added benefit of reducing flies in the home. Some commercial products to consider include ultraviolet light traps, disposable fly traps and sticky fly paper strips or ribbons.

Introducing toxic chemicals into your home is never a good idea. Pesticides should be used only in extreme cases to knock down a large invasion. Bait products available at your local Quality Co-op can be applied outdoors around dumpsters and garbage cans and where decomposing organic matter is found. Appropriately labeled insecticides can be applied to outdoor surfaces where flies rest such as the outside surfaces of barns, stables, houses and screens. Killing house flies does require vigilance, but don’t "be afraid" to try.

Tony A. Glover is a County Extension Coordinator in Cullman County.