A housefly defends itself against accusations of being unhygienic


A macro picture of a housefly.

Contact between us often calls for your grabbing a swatter or a can of insecticide.

But there are things you should consider before deciding that we are without virtue.

It is true, many writers like to paint us as real menaces.

This view was expressed because of the common belief that we are lovers of filth and pollution, and provide transportation for a whole army of germs.

Germ-laden flies were blamed for a typhoid epidemic that killed ten times as many soldiers during the Spanish-American War in 1898 as did bullets.

I cannot deny that bad incidents have occurred.

But as a housefly, I would like to present the other side of the story and explain how we might get involved in sordid affairs like that typhoid epidemic.

It is because of the kind of life we lead.


Earth’s custodians


Picture of housefly outdoors.


Our place is outdoors where we act as custodians of the earth.

We go about the daily job of consuming tons of decaying matter, swarming around an accumulation of debris.

The big appetite we houseflies have fits right in with the custodian role for which we have been made for.

True, problems have cropped up over the years, but the main reason for this is the way humans live or how they have changed the environment.

People have polluted the earth and created unsanitary conditions in big cities.

People throw garbage along highways or onto picnic grounds, and cities use large, open landfill sites for dumping tons of refuse.

While flitting about on our custodian duties, we pick up germs festering in this decaying matter.

Under such polluted conditions created by humans, it is a fact that we houseflies can become enemies of your health.

Since the germs we carry can harm you, it would be wise for you to store garbage where we cannot get at it.

Cans with lids are excellent receptacles for garbage.

Also, use screens over windows if possible.

If you do not have them, shut your windows before the sun rises and we start stirring.

Just as important, do not leave food lying in the open, which can be viewed by us as an invitation to lunch.


Do we spread germs?


Picture of a housefly feeding.

We have no jaws for chewing, so we take in all our food in liquid form.

We simply dissolve our food in fluid that we expel and then suck up again.

This fluid is either our own saliva or previously swallowed liquid that we regurgitate.

However, there may be germs in the residue of fluid that we leave behind.

We can also leave germs behind wherever we walk.

At the bottom of our six legs are sticky pads, fine for walking up the side of walls, or upside down on ceilings.

But when we put down a foot, germs on our feet may be deposited.

Yet having our feet on the ground is vital to us, since it is by means of taste organs on the tip of our feet that we tell what food meets our fancy.


Unlikely start to life


Picture of a housefly up-close.

Some of you people may think we have few virtues simply due to the way we spend our childhood—in a pile of cow droppings or horse manure.

Mrs. Housefly chooses this unlikely birthplace for us by laying her minute eggs in the warm manure.

Since the eggs are small, you can find hundreds of housefly larvae, called maggots, sharing the same accommodations.

Maggots are legless, footless, and almost headless.

They are hungry from the start of life.

After hatching, they immediately begin devouring their home.

After only six days of life, when their growth is complete, they have become 800 times their weight at birth!

The carnivorous habits of maggots have attracted your medical doctors, who have deliberately placed them in wounds so the little creatures could clean wounds by eating the dead or dying tissue.

The maggot, or larva, period of a housefly may last only about a week.

During this period it sheds its skin in several molts, reaching a length of half an inch.

It then migrates to the surface of the pile, where it is transformed into a pupa.

After another three days, the pupa slits, and out crawls a new housefly, complete with all the equipment for flying and eating.


Remarkably well equipped


Picture of a housefly body and eyes.

From head to tail our bodies measure a quarter of an inch.

You can recognize Mr. Housefly by a brownish yellow tint on the body.

Mrs. Housefly, in contrast, has a reddish tint.

The most remarkable organs of our bodies are our eyes, which cover most of our heads.

Marvelously constructed, they are like small telescopes packed closely together.

They allow us to look in every direction at the same time, and this, by the way, explains why humans have such a hard time catching us.

Within our bodies are motor muscles that drive our wings to give us aerial maneuverability ranking with the best of insectdom’s fliers.

My kinfolk can fly backward and forward, hover in one spot, or zoom along upside down.

Our strong wings, beating at a rate of over 300 times a second, enable us to fly long distances in a single flight.


Great progenitors


Picture of a housefly mating.

Besides being good fliers, Mr. and Mrs. Housefly can lay claim to being among insectdom’s greatest progenitors.

Mrs. Housefly is less than sixty hours old when she deposits her first eggs.

According to scientific estimates, under ideal conditions one housefly couple beginning to reproduce in April could, by August, if all the flies lived, cover the earth with a layer of their offspring more than three stories high!

But this, of course, could never happen.

For one thing, in summer houseflies live only about thirty days. Furthermore, enemies kill off huge numbers of us.

Nevertheless, many of us survive to the autumn, or later in temperate zones.

We may continue to breed right through the winter, though less rapidly.

Our being able to weather severe climates assures that from year to year there will be new generations of us.

This means that you need constantly to be aware to protect your home and food to prevent us from spreading disease to you.

Of course, if there were no environmental pollution and slum-ridden cities, you probably would not have to worry about our presence.

Then we could more fully work for your benefit as custodians of the earth.