In which PCC(E) tells people how to get rid of fruit flies

April 7, 2021 • 2:00 pm

This is not the first time I’ve been asked “how to get rid of fruit flies,” but this time it’s by a reporter for Chicago Magazine in the article below.

The first thing I had to ask when they queried me, was “what kind of ‘fruit flies’ are you talking about?” For the true fruit flies, the tephritids that endanger California’s fruit industry (that’s why you get inspected at the state border), aren’t a problem to homeowners.

What the reporter was asking me about was what geneticists call “fruit flies” but are better known to entomologists as “vinegar flies”. These are in the sister family Drosophilidae, and are the familiar Drosophila used in the lab. When you see little yellow flies buzzing around your fruit bowl, they are drosophilids, most likely Drosophila melanogaster or D. simulans.

And Drosophila are harmless, except to winemakers, and only because they’re attracted to the smell of alcohol and fly into the wine vats to die a happy death. (Flies love the smell of alcohol, as it denotes their real love, rotting fruit, in which they lay eggs.) Winemakers use pyrethrins, a fairly harmless pesticide derived from chrysanthemums, to control them.

If you see Drosophila buzzing around your fruit bowl or a glass of beer, don’t kill them, just shoo them away. They shouldn’t be breeding in your house unless you have a bunch of rotting fruit that’s sitting around for 12 days or so—and who has that?

(When I lived in Davis, I was called by a bar in Sacramento that really did have a Drosophila problem. A quick investigation showed that there was a huge bin of leftover, rotting lemons and limes from the bartender behind the building, and that was the source of the flies. For solving that problem, I got free drinks!)

But a reporter from Chicago Magazine was interested in how to get rid of them, along with three other “problems”: hiccups, alley rats, and hangovers. Somehow I was picked to be the fruit fly expert, and here’s my answer (click on the screenshots below to see the others, each with a different expert:

Well, this is advice for those with dipteraphobia. If you see fruit flies, just gently shoo them outside!

BBC show: Matthew and others on Drosophila

March 3, 2021 • 12:30 pm

The BBC is doing five ca.-15-minute shows on insects, and today’s is on my favorite insect (or genus of insects): Drosophila. It was broadcast this morning, but is now on the BBC site for your delectation. It won’t be there forever, so listen soon. The subtitle, “Drosophila Melanogastronaut” is clever, a play on the famous species Drosophila melanogaster, but they shouldn’t have capitalized the second word.

Erica McAlister, curator of Diptera at London’s Natural History Museum, introduces a number of talking heads, one of which is our own Matthew Cobb. It’s a short listen, and since your host spent his life working on Drosophila, you might want to learn a little about the fly. Click on the screenshot to listen how this humble fly (properly called the “vinegar fly” rather than “fruit fly”), kick-started genetics in the early 20th century.


The Infinite Monkey Cage takes on flies

January 11, 2021 • 2:15 pm

After an audience member demanded that the BBC’s Infinite Monkey Cage took up the subject of Drosophila, the show devoted its half-hour slot not just to Drosophila, but to flies in general (dipterans). It features not only the hosts Robin Ince and Brian Cox, but our own Mathew Cobb, Erica McAlister (a curator at London’s Natural History Museum), and “fly sceptic” David Baddiel, a British comedian.

As Matthew said, “It was a lot of fun. Erica is a hoot.”  It is a good show, and you’ll learn a lot about flies, and there’s a lot of laughing. Don’t miss the part about a botfly in the head (sadly, not the one I head).


April 30, 2018 • 1:15 pm

by Matthew Cobb

UPDATE: Matthew sent this computer-generated image of the robberfly’s venom system:

In case you didn’t know, today is World Robberfly Day on Twitter, so entomologists are posting pictures of these fabulous, chunky and aggressive flies, the apex predator of the Diptera. Go over and check out the photos yourself – here are just a few.



The gathering of the flies

October 28, 2017 • 12:00 pm

by Matthew Cobb

Here’s a lovely tweet by Japanese macrophotographer @muakbno. Look at all those flies! What are they and what are they doing?

@muakbno posted these pics with some explanation:

Twitter translation: “Chloropidae and flock to the leaves of a dark Companion. Touching leaves and flying in one formation can be distorted so with bated breath, calm approach. No matter how many similar upward along.”

Google translation: “A fellow of the flying fly that gathers one after another on the leaves of Misaki of dusk. Touching the leaves, if one flies, the formation will be disturbed and quietly quiet as you kill yourself. Regardless of the number, they are arranged in almost the same upward direction.”

Any Japanese readers want to improve on the translations? These are Chloropidae, tiny flies that are quite common in Japan, where there are 3 subfamilies, 53 genera and 143 species. More here.

But what are they actually doing? Why are they all grouped together? How could we work it out?

Gorgeous monster robberflies

September 11, 2017 • 1:00 pm

by Matthew Cobb

These monsters were posted by Piotr Naskrecki – another reason why you should be on Tw*tter!

We’ve posted about robberflies (Asilidae) before here, with a reader’s photo here and a fabulous robberfly in amber here. Go read about them! Amazing beasts. (I note in passing that PCC(E) doesn’t have a ‘flies’ category here. For shame! So now we do.)