like to think that I “keep a clean house” and I am especially diligent in the kitchen, for obvious health reasons. However, no matter what I do, I always seem to have tiny fruit flies flying around my fruit storage rack and especially around the compost container recessed in my new counter top. I like to have fruit sitting out where members of my family can grab it and go. That is just part of the way we live. Evidently, so is coexisting with fruit flies.
I consulted my insect guide, A Field Guide to Common Texas Insects by Bastiaan M. Drees and John A. Jackman, to learn a little about insects and these little flies specifically. As the old Western movie heroes used to say, “Men, we’re outnumbered.” More than half of all the known animal species on the earth are insects. Of the 100,000 different insect species in the United States, 30,000 different species live in Texas. If you are sitting in a room in your house and believe that you are the only animal in the room, think again. Many insects are too small to be seen by the naked eye.
Insects definitely have their useful place in the web of life. They are an important food source for many other animals, including birds, reptiles, amphibians, bats, shrews and anteaters. Of course, bees, butterflies and moths are insects that help pollinate plants and bring beauty to the world. Others help break down dead animals and plants and return nutrients to the soil. Wasps help keep spiders in check. Not all insects are beneficial to man, however. This past summer’s outbreak of West Nile virus in the north Texas area was the result of a proliferation of the mosquito that carries the virus. My fruit flies help break down ripe fruit, but I would rather they did that somewhere else besides my kitchen.
According to the guide, fruit flies belong to the order Diptera which are true flies. They have one set of wings and the life cycle is a complete metamorphosis including egg, larva, pupa and adult. The adult is 1/8 inch long and is yellowish to tan to dark brown. One fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) Meigen, also called the banana fly, has been used by scientists as a laboratory animal in genetic and other experiments.
The female lays eggs in a suitable habitat such as rotting fruit. The larvae, called maggots, feed until it is time to go to a drier location to pupate. This development from egg to adult can happen in 8 to 10 days. These flies are considered a nuisance in restaurants, wine cellars, near fruit and vegetable fields and processing areas and grocery stores selling fruit. Modern day merchandising requires refrigerating the fruit and vegetables to assure somewhat under-ripe products for purchase. When I get my produce home, I do not refrigerate the apples, bananas and oranges. That is probably why I have the little brown visitors. I am resigned to their presence, since I like my fruit room temperature. They don’t bite or carry disease, and I refuse to try to poison them in my kitchen. As I said earlier, we are surrounded and outnumbered.
For more information about Master Naturalists, call the AgriLife Extension Service at 972-825-5175 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or go to http://tx.audubon.org/Dogwood.tml.