I’ve killed many a musca domestica, aka house fly, in my day.
As a child visiting Wisconsin, one of my favorite barn chores was poisoning the little buggers. Grandma had an old-fashioned pump sprayer, which she filled, I’m guessing, with a capful of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, aka DDT, and water. This was long before we knew that the substance was a scourge to birds, especially ones high on the food chain like hawks and eagles. So spray I did, pumping clouds of toxic vapor in the air.
Back home, my brothers and I might make a contest of swatting flies, collecting their little corpses for body counts. And in school, I’m embarrassed to report, I’d often perk up a boring day by catching one of the disease vector menaces with my bare hand and then pulling off a wing, taking entertainment from another creature’s bad fortune. I can only hope that there’s a statue of limitations for such crimes come judgment day.
The worst case of flies I have ever seen occurred on a hog farm.
My girlfriend at the time invited me as her guest to her brother’s annual fish fry in rural Washington County, aka hog country. It was quite a spread: beer, beans, potato salad and deep fried catfish to feed well over a hundred people. The mood was festive as there’s nobody happier than an Iowa farmer at an outdoor, all-you-can-eat banquet. Unfortunately, the flies thought it was great as well, and the eating area soon was filled with the pests.
The humans took it in stride, however, and even made the flies the topic of lively conversation. A bet developed at my table as to how many flies would land on an unattended plate in a minute. I got in for a buck but no winner could be determined on the first round as too many flies landed to count. The next go-around we went for 10 seconds, and the contestant that guessed closest to 20 won.
I was totally into the jocularity until the old farmer sitting next to me brought up a piece of trivia. “You know,” he said as matter of fact, “the average fly poops once every 10 seconds.” I can count the number of times I’ve lost my appetite on the fingers of one hand, with that moment being one of them.
But none of my acts of murder or feelings of disgust compare to Sabra and her all-out battle on the bugs in the barn where Dan, the one-eyed mule, lived. Before Dan, there were a few flies, but their numbers exploded with the arrival of the mule and his oozing eye. The barn invasion disturbed Sabra, but when the flies strayed into the house it was all-out, take no prisoners, war.
Her first weapon was traditional flypaper. Not one or two rolls but an entire gross, 144 strips placed as carefully as ribbons on a Christmas tree. This lasted only a couple of days, however, as she discovered that the barn swallows were also getting caught, a collateral damage she couldn’t accept.
She moved on to biological warfare, sending away for a package of fly wasp. A full-grown fly wasp is less than a millimeter long, making it nearly invisible. The wasps lay eggs in fly pupa. Then the newly hatched wasps eat their host before breeding even faster than flies. I was skeptical when she poured the seemingly empty vial onto the various piles of dung in the barnyard. The wasps worked wonders, however, nearly eliminating the musca domestica, but did not harm the tabanidae, aka horse fly.
To get the horse flies, Sabra sent away for a very unlikely looking contraption consisting of a dark tarp, two troughs and two deflector shields. The tarp was stretched between two fence posts, and the troughs/deflector shields were set up in two strategically cut rectangles in the tarp. An unsuspecting horse fly would see the outline of the tarp, think it was a horse, begin circling, try to take a shortcut through one of the holes and get deflected into a pool of water in the trough. The trough soon filled with horse flies who never learned to swim.
I can only hope that my dear spouse never considers me a household pest. If so I might be mortus in appulsu, aka dead on arrival.